Colombia’s peace process is about to get a whole lot sexier.
Recently crowned Miss Universe Paulina Vega says she’s willing to accept the FARC’s invitation to participate in her country's peace talks in Cuba if the Colombian government is cool with her arriving late to the party.
“If [President Juan Manuel Santos] and the Colombian government think I can be of any help, I remain ready and willing to assist in any and all areas that will help promote further peace, stability and progress,” Vega told The New York Times in a statement.
Santos' government hasn't formally invited Miss Universe to the talks yet. But they'd be smart to do it soon. She's got a lot to give.
While outsiders may scoff at the idea of a beauty queen getting involved in the rather serious business of peacemaking, Miss Universe’s inclusion in the talks would be no trifling matter for many Colombians. That's because Paulina Vega brings something that no jungle-rot guerrilla or starched-collar government negotiator has: long lashes and a winsome smile. And whoever tells you those qualities don't count — in all matters of peace and war — isn't being entirely truthful.
"The positive image for Colombian identity comes from soccer and beauty queens," says Omar Rincon, a professor at the Universidad de los Andes and a TV critic for El Tiempo. "Everybody has something to give to the peace process, including the world of beauty. [Vega] might not have much to offer conceptually, but she will bring more visibility to the peace talks and demonstrate that it's a process that includes everyone."
Colombia's torpid peace process could especially benefit from an image makeover now as the talks enter a critical third year. Though there is no set time frame for the talks, analysts think 2015 could be the endgame; if no accord is reached by the end of the year, negotiators could lose the battle for public opinion before winning the peace. As it is, only 42 percent of Colombians are confident the talks are going anywhere, according to a Datexco public opinion poll released this week. That's up six points from the previous poll done last year, but it's still an uphill slog.
The battle for public opinion is intensifying. On one side is President Santos and —oddly enough— the FARC, both of whom are eager to legitimize the peace talks. Santos, it was revealed earlier this week, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying positive press for the peace talks in an effort to take control of the narrative and sway public opinion in his favor. And it appears to be working, according to the polls.
On the other side of the equation is the hawkish former President Alvaro Uribe, who dedicates a good part of his day to tweeting from his spleen and railing against the peace process to anyone who will listen. Uribe is in Washington, D.C. this week seeking sympathetic ears in the Republican corridors of Capitol Hill.
With all that background noise, the Colombian peace talks need all the help they can get. And the endorsement of a popular and attractive homegrown Miss Universe could be just the lift they need to boost mainstream approval over the 50 percent popularity mark for the first time — a significant milestone considering Colombians will eventually be asked to vote on a peace plan.
"Inviting Miss Universe to the talks is smart for the peace process and for the government," says Adam Isacson, a Colombia and security expert for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). "It would help give legitimacy to the talks by making them appear mainstream and less controversial."
Isaacson said the FARC's appeal to Vega also indicates the aging guerrilla group is showing new interest in its public image — something he says it "threw in the dumpster" during years of kidnappings and blowing up civilian targets.
"For many years, the FARC substituted wealth for public opinion, but now they are way more concerned about their image," Isacson told Fusion.
Vega's involvement in the process, however ornamental it might be, would symbolize the beginning of an important cultural shift in Colombia from war to peace, Isacson said.
"The government is aware it will not be easy to get most Colombians on board to endorse a final peace deal," says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C. "Anything that softens up the FARC’s image will help, so the Santos administration will also welcome and benefit from Miss Universe’s involvement."
Shifter warns, however, that Miss Universe's influence on the talks could be "fleeting" and her involvement even "carries risks with some Colombians, who may think the FARC and government are trying to distract from the real issues and trivialize matters of war and peace."
But in the end, anything Vega can do to promote a difficult peace process could provide a new glimmer of hope to Colombians and bring a new sparkle to her crown.