Political inexperience is no bar to success, says Jessica Anne Jordan Burton, a former Miss Bolivia who is now her president's special envoy
By Martin Arostegui in Santa Cruz
Jessica Anne Jordan Burton, a former Miss Bolivia who is now the Bolivian president's special envoy
Rare is the international beauty contestant who does not speak of an enthusiasm for seeing the world and doing good works. Jessica Anne Jordan Burton, however, has taken it a step further: the British-born beauty queen has swapped her crown as Miss Bolivia for a new and somewhat more dangerous job pitted against drug traffickers and paramilitaries.
Miss Jordan, 26, who takes her surname from her English father, has caught the eye not just of the beauty judges but of Bolovia's left-wing firebrand president, Evo Morales, who has hand-picked her to be his personal representative in one of his fiefdom's most hostile regions.
As the new development chief for the border province of Beni, a restive jungle backwater plagued with right-wing separatists, ethnic Indian militants, and Colombian narco-traffickers, she will be tasked with lavishing cash on the region in a bid to boost her boss's popularity. It is, however, a job, that may attract attention for a rather different reason: as Mr Morale's special envoy, she admits she will be at risk of assassination from his political enemies.
"I don't fear for my safety although my family is afraid of what might happen" said Miss Jordan, who represented Bolivia in the 2006 Miss Universe contest, and who will now be managing a budget of $700 million to build highways, shools, hospitals and sanitation. "I feel that the people want to work with me that they have confidence in me. I feel like I´m in my place. It´s my destiny".
Not everyone approves of Ms Jordan's appointment to the post of "Director for Development of Frontier Zones and Macroregions". It comes on the heels of her narrow defeat in a local race for governor, and critics say the new post has been deliberately created to usurp the power of her elected rival. There is also the question of her qualifications for the job - which, apart from a pretty face, consist mainly of presenting a news talk show where she focused mainly on beauty and entertainment stories.
"Jessica has no experience" says Adriana Gil, a former Morales supporter turned opposition MP. "I just know her as a model and have only heard her talk about light topics."
Miss Jordan, 26, was born in Bath, Somerset, to a British engineer who met her mother while working on an oil project in Bolivia during the 1980s. She returned to Bolivia as a young girl with her mother when her parents divorced. "I am mostly British even if I don't look it," she told The Sunday Telegraph, adding that she still holds a British passport, and will be rooting for England in the World Cup because Bolivia failed to qualify.
She started on the catwalk at 16 in the bustling eastern city of Santa Cruz, where modelling is a way of life and beauty contests are not just a daily event but an avenue to other careers.
She was signed up by the local elite model agency, Promotions Gloria, which has produced every Miss Bolivia since 1985 and whose matronly director, Gloria Limpias, has a reputation for mixing beauty with politics. Ms Jordan insists that she always had ambitions to hold office, and that for her, the catwalk was merely a conduit.
"I was always more interested in politics than in becoming a beauty queen" she insisted. "I saw the title of Miss Bolivia as a step ladder towards a political career. Being a beauty queen in Bolivia is very important. You learn a lot. You become a sort of ambassador."
Her world debut at the Miss Universe pageant in 2006 coincided with the inauguration of Evo Morales, a former coca farmer, as Bolvia's first ethnic Andean Indian president. Born of a lower-class background, and keen on cultivating ties with both Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela´s Hugo Chavez, Mr Morales did not go down well in the eastern lowlands, which are dominated by wealthy white-skinned Bolivians of European descent.
To her credit, Miss Jordan broke a pattern established by previous Bolivian beauty queens, who tend not to come from Indian stock and who have occasionally been openly rude about them. A previous Miss Bolivia once remarked: "Bolivians aren't all short, dark and poor. In Santa Cruz we are tall, white and speak English."
By contrast, Miss Jordan openly flirted with president Morales at a public ceremony, giving him an affectionate kiss which raised eyebrows among the eastern landed gentry.
"I was always inclined to help the poor. I guess it´s socialist," she said. "At first I was neutral, but decided to support the government when seeing that they were really for the poor and not the powerful families which had always dominated politics."
Miss Jordan claims that the re-election of right-wing governor Ernesto Suarez - who beat her by two points - was the result of fraud. "My appointment is not to compensate me but to compensate the people," she said.
Opponents, however, have criticised her new appontment as a "Viceroyalty" imposed by Mr Morales in a region where his government has consitently fared poorly in the polls. Many also believe she could be dangerously out of her depth in what is essentially a lawless and chaotic frontier zone. Colombian narco-trafficking gangs operate huge cocaine refineries and clandestine airstrips there, laundering money through new casinos and construction.
Foreign mercenaries from the Balkans have also been active in assisting separatist militias, and there are reports that Shining Path terrorists from neighboring Peru are taking refuge in Beni's remote marshlands.
But the beauty queen insists she will take it all within her elegant stride, citing President Morale's own example. "Experience is the least of it," she said. "We saw lack of experience in the president, an Indian who never finished high school and has done so much for Bolivia."