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Murder of former Miss Venezuela spotlights country's rampant crime

The murder of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and a companion in a roadside robbery was only unusual for the famous name in a country that suffers one of the world's highest murder rates.

By Staff writer / January 7, 2014

This May 23, 2005 file photo released by Miss Universe shows Monica Spear, Miss Venezuela 2005, posing for a portrait ahead of the Miss Universe competition in Bangkok, Thailand. Venezuelan authorities say the soap-opera actress and former Miss Venezuela and her husband were shot and killed resisting a robbery after their car broke down.

Miss Universe Darren Decker/AP/File

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A Venezuelan beauty queen was killed last night in a reminder of the uglier side of Venezuela.

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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Monica Spear, the 2004 Miss Venezuela and an international Spanish-language soap-opera star, was shot along with her companion Thomas Henry Berry on the road between Valencia and Puerto Cabello.

They were awaiting a tow truck after their car broke down, according to local news reports. Their five-year-old daughter was hurt in the suspected robbery, but is in stable condition.

Many took to social media to lament Spear’s slaying and share condolences. But take away the famous name and the deaths were all too familiar in a country where “express” kidnappings – in which victims are driven around town and forced to drain their bank accounts at gunpoint – are reported weekly and crime rates are notoriously high.

Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world. According to a December report by the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, an NGO, there were 24,763 murders in Venezuela in 2013, a 14 percent rise in homicides from 2012. UN data from 2010 shows that Venezuela had the fourth highest murder rate in the world behind Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica.

Last May, President Nicolás Maduro rolled out a security plan dubbed “Patria Segura,” which included mobilizing the military alongside the national police to fight crime. Juan Cristobal Nagel writes in The Caracas Chronicles, an opposition blog, that the homicide rate this year of about 79 people per 100,000 displayed the failure of the government’s program:

In a normal country, the wave of violence alone would be cause for impeachment – from the President, all the way down to the Supreme Court in charge of handing out “justice.” But these are deaths without guilt – according to chavista talking points nobody is responsible, it’s a worldwide trend, and … let’ talk about faulty poverty statistics instead!

David Smilde and Rebecca Hanson from the Washington Office on Latin America in October looked into the question of what Venezuelans think can be done to reduce crime there. The economy is sputtering, inflation is sky high at 54 percent, and shortages of everything from toilet paper to sugar are rampant. However, the top response (respondents selected three measures from a list of seven, noted in full below*) in a survey implemented by polling firm Datanalisis was “improving family values.”

Family values was the most common first choice for reducing crime with almost 30% naming it. Indeed 67% of respondents mentioned it among their top three. As we mentioned before, pointing to the family effectively privatizes and depoliticizes crime. But it also heavily genders it. In the Venezuelan context “the family” often boils down to single mothers who are portrayed as “not doing their jobs.”  Such mothers are often referred to as “alcahuetas,” a label that specifically refers to women who cover up or ignore the bad behavior of their sons.

While over 50% of respondents thought that crime would best be addressed by addressing social and cultural causes, it is notable that over 30% of respondents saw reforms in police, penal and judicial systems as the most important actions that could be taken to fight crime. This compared to only 12.3% that saw military deployment—the Maduro government’s favored strategy—as the most effective way to reduce crime.

More than 70 people have been killed in Venezuela since the New Year, reports NBC.

* Survey choices included: improving the values taught to children by the family; decreasing poverty and social inequality; professionalizing police officers; reforming the judicial and penal systems; a permanent deployment of military in sectors with high rates of crime; improving access to sports and cultural activities; and improving access to public space.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated Mr. Berry's first name.

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