28 junho 2010

Bolivian beauty swaps the catwalk for politics

June 28, 2010

Geostrategic analysis of international affairs.

Jessica Jordan Burton. Jessica Jordan Burton.

RARE is the international beauty contestant who does not speak of an enthusiasm for good works. Jessica Anne Jordan Burton, however, has taken it a step further, swapping her crown as Miss Bolivia for a job that pits her against drug traffickers and paramilitaries.

Miss Jordan, 26, who has an English father and Bolivian mother, has caught the eye not only of pageant judges but of Bolivia's left-wing president, Evo Morales, who has picked her to be his representative in one of the country's most hostile regions.

As the new development chief for the border province of Beni, a restive jungle backwater plagued by right-wing separatists, indigenous militants, and Colombian drug traffickers, she will have the task of lavishing cash on the region in a bid to boost her boss' popularity.
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''I don't fear for my safety although my family is afraid of what might happen,'' says Miss Jordan, who represented Bolivia in the 2006 Miss Universe contest, and who will now be managing a budget of $US700 million ($A800 million) to build highways, schools, hospitals and sanitation.

Miss Jordan's appointment to the post of ''director for development of frontier zones'' comes on the heels of her narrow defeat in a race for governor. Critics say the post has been created to usurp the power of her elected rival.

There is also the question of her qualifications for the job. ''Jessica has no experience,'' says Adriana Gil, a former Morales supporter turned opposition Member of Parliament. ''I just know her as a model and have only heard her talk about light topics.''

Miss Jordan started on the catwalk at 16 in the eastern city of Santa Cruz and was signed up by the elite agency, Promotions Gloria, which has produced every Miss Bolivia since 1985. ''I was always more interested in politics than in becoming a beauty queen,'' Miss Jordan insists. ''I saw the title of Miss Bolivia as a stepladder towards a political career.''

Her world debut at the Miss Universe pageant in 2006 coincided with the inauguration of Mr Morales, a former coca farmer, as Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Miss Jordan claims that the re-election of right-wing Beni 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 appointment as a ''vice-royalty'' imposed by Mr Morales in a region where his government has consistently 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 where Colombian gangs operate huge cocaine refineries and clandestine airstrips.

But the beauty queen insists she will take it all in her elegant stride, citing Mr Morales' own example.

''Experience is the least of it,'' she says. ''We saw lack of experience in the president, an Indian who never finished high school and has done so much for Bolivia.''


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