Puerto Rican wins beauty contest despite sabotage

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - Someone doused her make-up and clothes with pepper spray, but Ingrid Marie Rivera put on a happy face and managed to win the beauty pageant that selected Puerto Rico’s representative in the Miss Universe contest.

The 24-year-old from the town of Dorado was all smiles in front of the audience and judges during the competition, which ended on Friday when she beat 29 rivals. But backstage, she had to strip off her clothes and ice down her face and body to fight swelling and hives.

Pageant officials have vowed to get to the bottom of the attempted sabotage that tainted the pageant, an event that inspires passions in the U.S. Caribbean territory. Puerto Rico has produced five Miss Universe winners.

“It was a lot of sacrifice, and my tears were genuine,” Rivera told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

“At one point, I asked, ‘Am I a masochist?’ But I said regardless of the results, this is my goal. The more rocks there are in my path, the more thanks I will give to God for sustaining me.”

Pageant organizers say they suspected a member of the team handling one of Rivera’s competitors was responsible.

Magali Febles, director of the Miss Puerto Rico Universe Pageant, said the person behind the “vile act” was “from inside.”

“I am going to investigate this until the final consequences. When we have everything, I will announce who the person is because someone with these instincts is capable of anything.”

Organizers also said Rivera’s bags, containing clothing and credit cards, were stolen, and that a bomb threat called in on Thursday forced the cancellation of some preliminary events. Police were investigating the bomb threat.

Beauty competitions are important stuff in Puerto Rico.

The ability to field a Miss Universe competitor from Puerto Rico, as well as Olympic sports teams, is a factor in the island’s endless political debate, brought about by its status as a U.S. territory with aspects of a state and an independent country.

The events are widely watched, the winners are front page news and the local press is filled with speculation about favorites in the days prior to the competition.

Editing by Cynthia Osterman