- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Two faded Bolivian beauty queens have re-entered the limelight in recent days through international scandals ranging from drug trafficking to illegally employing aliens.

Roxana Arias and Sonia Montero Falcone, who represented their country at Miss Universe pageants more than a decade ago, ran into legal trouble in separate and contrasting criminal cases that reflect the opulent wealth to which one rose and the sordid underworld into which the other sank.

Mrs. Falcone, Miss Bolivia 1988 and the wife of an international arms dealer, worked out a plea agreement with Arizona authorities in late March after having illegally employed four Bolivians as servants at her $10 million mansion in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Under the deal, she promised to leave the United States — probably for Europe, where she owns six homes.

Miss Arias, Miss Bolivia 1993, was arrested by Bolivian police six days later after sniffer dogs reportedly detected 1.75 pounds of cocaine in her bag. The single mother, emaciated by drug abuse, had been trying to board a flight for Brazil from her native Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s eastern capital where modeling has become a way of life, is home to a long line of beauty queens including Mrs. Falcone and Desire Duran, who was a semifinalist at the Miss Universe contest last year in Los Angeles.

“I’m on my way to a contest,” a sobbing Miss Arias told police, who struggled to handcuff her as she clutched her 11-month-old baby. “Don’t you see I’m a queen?”

The arrests shocked Gloria Limpias, who heads Promociones Gloria, a combination modeling agency and finishing school that has turned out every Miss Bolivia since 1980.

“I taught them to walk, I taught them how to talk, I taught both of them how to dress and how to hold their dessert spoon,” Mrs. Limpias said.

“Some girls keep in touch while others are ungrateful,” she added, saying she often visited Mrs. Falcone during visits to the United States and continued to exchange telephone calls.

But, she said, “I hadn’t heard from Roxana for many years. I knew that the family was broke, that her father was dying of diabetes and that she was pregnant. I felt very sorry for her.”

Miss Arias also went to the United States after her debut on the world stage. Her attempt at a singing career was unsuccessful and she drifted into drug addiction and prostitution, said friends who knew her in Miami.

“She should not be in prison but undergoing treatment in a mental institution,” said Luis Reyes, a Santa Cruz lawyer who has offered to defend Miss Arias at no charge. “She is not in control of her faculties.”

Mrs. Falcone’s prosperity, meanwhile, owes much to her marriage to Pierre Falcone, who gained international notoriety in an arms trafficking scandal that involved the Angolan government and the son of former French President Francois Mitterrand.

Mr. Falcone avoided prosecution after being appointed in 2003 as Angola’s ambassador to a U.N. agency, providing him with a diplomatic passport and immunity, according to press reports.

Mrs. Falcone, who has until August to move abroad, “loved her life in the United States,” said Mrs. Limpias, recalling how her star student met her husband at a social function in Los Angeles 15 years ago. “She tells me that she will be able to get a visa to go back.”

Under the plea agreement, Arizona authorities dropped long-standing felony charges including lying on a citizenship application and engaging in marriage fraud to obtain immigration paperwork, according to a report in the East Valley Tribune of Scottsdale, Ariz.

The four Bolivians employed to perform domestic work at her house had been in the United States legally but on visas that permitted them to work only at a church with which Mrs. Falcone was involved. Several published reports said she donated $100,000 to the Bush campaign in 2000.

“Our beauty queens have a way of getting into trouble,” remarked a writer for the social pages of the newspaper El Deber.

Miss Duran shocked Santa Cruz society over a purported romance with Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, dispelling rumors that he was homosexual.

She went on hunger strike against the government during widespread protests for regional autonomy in December and became pregnant by another boyfriend.

Her predecessor, Gabriela Oviedo, almost stoked ethnic tensions in Bolivia when she told journalists in Miami that “not all Bolivians are poor, short and dark. In Santa Cruz, we are white, tall and speak English.”


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