Even Miss Venezuela can't escape economic crisis

CARACAS Thu Sep 17, 2009 3:09pm EDT

1 of 4. The Miss Venezuela 2009 beauty pageant contestants pose for photographers during a presentation to the media in Caracas, September 16, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Despite a second consecutive victory at this year's Miss Universe, even Venezuela's hugely successful beauty factory is feeling the global pinch.

The local "Miss Venezuela" organization -- which has landed the South American nation more international pageant titles than any other country -- announced on Wednesday it had slashed the number of national competitors to 20 from 30.

"We have had to tighten our belt a bit too," said Joaquin Riviera, organizer of the annual Miss Venezuela competition, which is wildly popular and draws huge TV audiences.

The next national winner will be chosen on September 24.

"I've asked Osmel to be a bit stricter choosing 20 girls, so we only have the best," Riviera added, referring to local beauty "czar" Osmel Sousa, who prepares the competitors.

Sousa denied the cuts, however, would mean fewer dresses or less plastic surgery for girls competing. Venezuela has one of the highest rates of cosmetic surgery in the world.

Venezuela's Stefania Fernandez, an 18-year-old brunette, won the Miss Universe 2009 title last month in the Bahamas, giving her country its second win in a row and its sixth in that pageant's history.

(Reporting by Fabian Andres Cambero; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Eric Beech)

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