Irene Sofiá Esser Quintero will be representing Venezuela in the 2012 Miss Universe pageant. (Photo/FilmMagic for Getty Images)

[PHOTOS] Latina beauty queens compete in Miss Universe 2012 pageant

With 21 Latina contestants in the 2012 Miss Universe pageant, this year’s competition is heating up to one the hottest ever. Hailing from countries like Mexico, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, the Latinas at the pageant represent some of the most beautiful and well-rounded women in the world as they compete to succeed current title holder, Leila Lopes, for the highly-coveted title of Miss Universe.

And as an international competition that prides itself on crowning brainy beauties who are “savvy, goal-oriented and aware,” here’s a look at some of the reasons we’ll be watching when the pageant is broadcast live from Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on Dec. 19 on Telemundo and NBC at 8/7 c.

Latinas are the ones to watch

The competition may host beautiful women from across the globe, but here’s a fun fact: 17 lovely Latinas have been crowned winners of the Miss Universe pageant since 1970. And more than half of all the winners in the last 20 years have been Latina, including Mexico’s Ximena Navarette (2010), Venezuela’s Stefania Fernandez (2009), Venezuelan beauty Dayana Mendoza (2009), Puerto Rico’s Zulekya Rivera (2006) and Amelia Vega from the Dominican Republic, who won the title in 2003.

Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

No, we’re not chatting up baseball rivalries: it’s all about Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico when it comes to the pageant whose competitors are “savvy, goal-oriented and aware.” Venezuela made history in 2009 when Venezolana Dayana Mendoza handed the crown to Stefanía Fernández, making it the only country to win two consecutive wins. Even so, Puerto Rico is third just behind the United States and Venezuela when it comes to the highest number of title wins, making the competition at this year’s pageant particularly fierce.

Mexico’s most beautiful

Mexico is fifth on the list for number of wins, with titles earned in 1991 and in 2010. This year’s competitor from Mexico, Karina González is a 5’9″ beauty from Aguascalientes City in Jalisco who won Nuestra Belleza México 2011 – a beauty pageant organization directed by former beauty queen Lupita Jones. Jones won the country’s first title in 1991 and knows how to create a winner, having helped fellow Mexicana Ximena Navarette earn Miss Universe in 2010.

Colombia’s proudest moment

Miss Colombia may have only had one Miss Universe win to date, but its biggest achievement is truly jaw-dropping. The country claims a total of six wins for best National Costume Award – more than any other country.

The hot list

The United States may officially hold the highest number of Miss Universe wins since the competition began in 1952, but there are a total of five Latin countries with the highest number of titles and runner-ups: Venezuela (37), Puerto Rico (19), Brazil (30), Mexico (16) and Colombia (30).

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