At the moment, however, Boliva and Peru are locked in a cross-border battle over the elaborate outfit worn by Miss Peru, Karen Schwartz (below), in the pageant's national costume competition. According to the Wall Street Journal, Boliva claims that the Carnival ritual which inspired the costume, La Diablada or the Devil's Dance, originated in the Bolivian city of Oruro and that Peru is guilty of theft. Peru vehemently disagrees.
(By the way, yes, you read that correctly: Miss Peru, Karen Schwartz. Her full name, which does not appear in the WSJ, is actually Karen Susana Schwartz Espinoza, implying a certain familiarity with cultural hybridization. Just a thought.)
Peru's denial of Bolivia's charge, along with Miss Peru's observation that the neighboring countries share almost the same culture and customs, illustrates one of the difficulties of protecting and commodifying collective cultural creativity. It's relatively easy -- conceptually at least -- to bar outsiders from half a world away from engaging in cultural appropriation. It's quite a bit more difficult to mediate disputes between cultural cousins over the ownership of a particular song or story. Miss Peru's costume designer, Richard Davila, may or may not have been inspired by clothing from the Peruvian city of Puno rather than Bolivia's Oruro, or a Chilean town with similar traditions for that matter, but it's almost impossible to say for sure.
The silver lining in this cultural property skirmish, as with every dispute from the tragic destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas to the British Museum's refusal to return the Parthenon/Elgin marbles to Greece, is that it draws public attention to the heritage in question.
On the other hand, this particular international incident is unlikely to result in that most cherished wish of beauty pageant participants everywhere: world peace.