Miss Venezuela 1984, Now a US Conservative, Reflects on Her Country’s Decline

“I was born in paradise,” Carmen Maria Montiel says of her home country of Venezuela. But “bureaucracy and corruption” turned her homeland into a nation she hardly recognized. 

Montiel, a journalist, writer, political activist, and Miss Venezuela 1984, says her home country was destroyed by crippling economic policies and poor immigration regulations.

“It’s exactly what happened in Venezuela,” Montiel says, comparing America’s open border policies to Venezuela’s immigration policies in the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Montiel joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to share her own story of immigrating to America, and to discuss the parallels between Venezuela’s downfall and what she is currently seeing in America. 

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

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Virginia Allen: It is my honor to welcome to the show Carmen Maria Montiel. Carmen was born in Venezuela and won Miss Venezuela and Miss South America pageants in 1984, and she earned second runner-up for Miss Universe. Today Carmen is a journalist, a writer, and an advocate for conservative policies in her state of Texas. Carmen, welcome to the show.

Carmen Maria Montiel: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Allen: I want to start with just talking a little bit about your background. You were born in Venezuela. Your home country, though, has changed a lot since you were first born there. … What changed in your nation?

Montiel: I aways say that I was born in paradise. The country I grew up with and when I was born, it was perfection. We were the beacon of hope in the region, in Latin America. We were the country with money. The country was the most advanced because the production of oil and money allow us to be at the front of every new modern development. The cities were developing like in the 20th century. It’s a beautiful country to have everything. I always tell people we have the largest Caribbean coast. We have desert. It is like perfection.

We grew up being very conservative. I am from a state and a city that is the most similar to Texas. That’s what I always say, I’m in the right place. It’s about oil and cows, and that’s where I grew up, with oil, and it was safe.

But as a young adult I started to see how corruption was growing, how bureaucracy was growing. I remember how my dad always told us what is killing this country is bureaucracy and corruption, but it was the starting point.

My dad in the ’80s told us that the best for all of us, my siblings and I, was to come to the United States, study, and stay here because he was a visionary. He knew that everything was to change, and it did.

Allen: How old were you when you ended up coming to America?

Montiel: I came to America after the pageant when I was 23 years old to further my education. I studied art first and then I studied journalism, and that’s what I finish here in the United States. My first year was in North Carolina, learning English. Then I graduated from East Tennessee State University, and after graduating I moved to Houston. I always say that Houston is for me like Maracaibo and Texas is like the state of Zulia.

While I was here was when Hugo Chavez won, because I came here in 1988, and 10 years later is when he won the elections, in 1998. He was a communist, a socialist that promised the people to take from the rich to give to the poor, and that’s always bad, because what we need to teach our people is teach them how to fish.

The people that is rich, it’s not their fault they have work, and actually they create jobs for the rest of us. If you strangulate and oppress then, the whole pyramid folds because there is not job creation. So I saw from afar how the country changed, and at that point then we had to bring our parents over, and the rest of my siblings came over. That destroyed the family, because today we’re all spread around the world.

Latino families were very united. Our family is not only the nuclear family. Our families is about the aunts and the uncles and the cousins, and nowadays we really have family in Australia, in Europe, in the United States, South America, and that really is one of the things that I always say about socialism, is they want to destroy the family, because when they destroy the family they can control the individual. But when you belong to a family union, it’s much more difficult to control you and dominate you.

Allen: The family truly is the backbone of society. If we want to have a flourishing society you have to have strong families. You have to have united families. So for you, growing up in Venezuela how would you describe your life there? Tell us a little bit of what it was like.

Montiel: It was a very… So you’re in paradise. We had it all. We were able to live an incredible life. I used to go to a Catholic school. I was able to enjoy my family. Many times a party you only invite the family it was a hundred people.

But certain things started to happen then. In the ’70s and ’80s suddenly the borders were opened in Venezuela and we started to get a major influx of migrants, and with that, that’s how it started. Being a little girl, I started to see how crime went up. Drugs came to the country. Nowadays when I see what’s happening in the United States with the border opened, it’s like OK, it’s the same thing happening 30-40 years after.

That’s what I say, this socialist plan is a manual and they are repeat[ing it] step by step. Growing up, like I always said, the pageant was an accident. I was in a discotheque with my cousins and friends, because we went out in groups, and I met the president of the Miss Venezuela pageant, and he came to me, “You should compete.”

I thought he was crazy, and it took him three years to convince me, because that was nothing that I ever planned or dreamed with. It was really an accident, but it has been a very important accident in my life. It has taken me to great places. I would say it changed my life, because it gave me incredible opportunities, and that’s what I tell my children, that I have three, and every young person. I say take every opportunity that comes to you. You never know where it’s going to take you.

Allen: I think the world of pageants is so fascinating. Maybe we’ve seen the movie “Miss Congeniality” or something like that, and we have little glimpses into that world of pageants. You hear about so-and-so being crowned, or this or that.

What was it like for you? What did you kind of gain from that experience of being in that world of pageants, and learning how to think on your feet, and answer questions during competitions and that kind of thing?

Montiel: People don’t realize that when we’re answering questions we know this is going live to millions of people. Here you have a young girl having to answer within seconds to whatever and do well, and that’s really a great training in life. I said I think it was the best training to be later on in my life in politics.

But it also… Since I never planned it or wanted or dreamed with that, and I felt like I was so lucky that it happened, I said what am I going to do with this? So I was the only Miss Venezuela in history till today that created a foundation, and I dedicated all that foundation to raise money for pediatric hospitals.

Then I went on to be Miss South America and experience Miss Universe, that you are sharing with… We were 82 girls from all around the world, so the teaching experience, I always say it made me grow so much in one year that I will always treasure that experience, because that was like having a masters and PhD about life.

My foundation grew and extended to Peru and Ecuador. Because of the situation in Venezuela it no longer exists in Venezuela, but still working in Peru, so I’m very proud that that little seed that I put there is still after almost 40 years helping pediatric hospitals.

Allen: And that was when you were in your 20s, right?

Montiel: Nineteen years old.

Allen: You were 19? Oh, my goodness.

Montiel: I was a teenager. Yes.

Allen: I think that’s so encouraging to hear of young women doing these powerful things. Literally you planted a seed, like you said, and there is still fruit coming from that today. That’s incredible.

Montiel: Yes. Those are one of things that I tell people, take the opportunities and make something good out of it.

Allen: I love it. Now I want to go back just a little bit about kind of what you’re seeing in comparison to Venezuela and America, because you mentioned the fact that you started to see things shift and change in Venezuela as they began to open up their borders more and more.

Of course we’re seeing that, we’ve been seeing that in America. People are flooding across the border. We’re having record numbers of illegal migrants coming into our country. Do you think that that is the greatest issue facing America right now? What would you say? What are our greatest challenges as a country?

Montiel: There is many, but what people need to think about the problem at the border right now is they need to take… They’re saying today it’s 3,000,000 people. You have to multiply that 3,000,000 people by the number of children they’re going to have. In 20 years we’re not going to recognize this country.

It’s exactly what happened in Venezuela. These migrants came in the ’70s and ’80s. In 1998 the children of these migrants were the ones who voted for Hugo Chavez and we never saw Venezuela to get back to what it was.

When I came to this country I already had a morning talk show in Venezuela and I already experienced during that time, even though in Venezuela our former constitution was very much like the American constitution, freedom of speech … Venezuela really tried to mimic what the United States was.

So when I came here I was like this country really has freedom of speech, because in Venezuelan radio at the time there were things, working on television, they told us you cannot say this or say that.

When I came to this country I realized this is really freedom of speech and spent years in politically correctness. I noticed how we were losing our freedom of speech because now it was not politically correct. I think that now we need just to take back our freedom of speech, and if it is not politically correct and some people don’t like it that’s bad, but we should have the right to be able what we say.

Also with Obama, that’s when I started noting the biggest change, because that’s when bureaucracy even grew. Bureaucracy is a sign of socialism, because it is a way for them to divert governmental money into these bureaucratic offices, that instead of having offices with people that are elected running the system they just divert it to these bureaucratic offices and we don’t have accountability of what are they doing.

Then the corruption that now we’re seeing it at all levels, and I experienced that during my divorce in the judiciary system, and that was the most heartbreaking for me to realize that corruption has gotten to that level. In reality it was around those years that I say you know what? We’re losing this country. I always say I love the country. I refuse to lose another one, and that’s when I said I’d better do something.

Allen: Wow, that’s powerful to hear you say that, refuse to lose another country. Now you’re a writer, you’re a journalist, you’re very active in the public policy space, in the policy space, trying to spread conservative values, trying to spread pro-family values, pro-American values. Share a little bit about how you think we as young women can be a part of doing just that, of saving our country.

Montiel: We need to pro-active. I always tell people… And that’s when I decided to be a part of politics. I said politics should not be a career. Politics should be service, and there is so many different positions that we can run for and be part of, like school boards, city councils, that it really is not going to take much time out of your life, but you will participate and collaborate.

And if you run for a position get involved and be part of groups that will force our elected officials to have accountability. The most important thing is to have our elected officials to be accountable. We need to call them out and say we voted for you because we’re expecting for you to do this, especially right now with the problem we have with parental rights.

As a mother of three, my children are mine. I have the right to decide where they’re going to be educated, how they’re going to be educated. The government should not tell us, or impose anything to be taught to our children, or brainwash them like they’re doing right now.

Especially for women, because for us, especially our children are our most … We say that’s the point we really get involved. Get involved. We need to get involved at any level that you feel you can do it, but do something, even if it is blogging. Do a podcast. Write about it. I’ve been doing all of that.

I’ve been punished for doing it as a conservative, but I decided that I’m going to keep on going, because for me, I worry about the future of my children. I want my children to have hope. I want my children to have the American dream. I want my children to hope for greatness, because this is the greatest country on earth. That’s why I’m here, and I want my children to be part of it.

We need to save this country, because we’re losing it, so our children can be part of the greatness of this great nation.

Allen: You really begin to realize, I think, the more you sort of get into that public policy space or just sort of follow the news in general, you really realize oh, my goodness, freedom isn’t guaranteed. It’s something we have to fight for. It’s something that literally from generation to generation we have to be fighting for and insuring for that next generation. It’s not passed down the bloodline. It’s something that has to be fought for.

Montiel: They take it away little by little. I think people have now realized it, especially during the pandemic. What happened is we didn’t realize Sept. 11 we lost a lot of our freedom, and it stayed like that. We never got it back. We’re still treated like criminals when we go to the airport. Why, if we are citizens, [if] we are law-abiding citizens?

Now with the pandemic they force us to wear masks. They force us not to work. Many people lost their jobs.

What I’m worried is that the new generation, the children and the teenagers, got used to this, got used that they told them you have to wear a mask. For them it’s now normal that somebody is going to impose something on them that it should have never happened, because those are part of our freedom and our right at American citizens, and as individuals our God-given rights.

Allen: Absolutely. Yeah. We have to take a stand for those freedoms, like you said. Now I want to ask you one question that we love to ask everyone that comes on this show, and that is do you consider yourself a feminist? Yes or no? Why or why not? No right or wrong answer there.

Montiel: No, I’m not a feminist. I am pro-women’s rights but I’m not a feminist. Feminists have done women wrong through history. Because of them we have lost rights. We are mistreated. When you see a feminist supporting a gender that is actually taking a right, you realize that feminists are not pro-women. So I am pro-women’s rights but I’m not a feminist.

I love to be a woman. I’m a very girly-girl woman. Sadly, the feminists are not, and that’s who I am. I want my girls—I have two girls and one son—to be the best they can be, and I will fight for their rights with my nails and teeth.

Allen: Carmen, thank you so much for joining the show today. We really appreciate you time.

Montiel: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

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