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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dominican Student Wins Miss Universe Title

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Miss Dominican Republic Amelia Vega, a 1.83-meter-tall, 18-year-old high school student, won the Miss Universe 2003 title in Panama City on Tuesday night, beating a field of 70 other pageant queens with her charm and charisma.

It was the first time a contestant from the Dominican Republic was crowned Miss Universe. Miss Venezuela Mariangel Ruiz, a 23-year-old economics student, came second. She was followed by Miss South Africa Cindy Nell, a 21-year-old management student.

As Miss Universe 2003, Vega will take home an estimated $70,000 in prizes and hold public engagements around the world that will include fundraising and campaigning for AIDS research and awareness. Vega will also win an appearance on a Spanish-language soap opera.

"I'm so proud to be able to work with these people [AIDS patients], to support them," she said.

But not everyone was charmed by the beauty queens. Thousands of Panamanians protested before the start of the contest, saying the $9 million the government paid to host Miss Universe could have been better spent on the country's poor, who make up 40 percent of Panama's 2.8 million population.

Miss Venezuela almost didn't make it. At the 11th hour, her sponsor, private television channel Venevision, came up with the funds to send Ruiz to the contest, overcoming currency controls imposed by Caracas to stem capital flight.