THE murder of a former Miss Venezuela turned soap-opera star has sparked a political storm for the socialist government of president Nicolas Maduro.
Mr Maduro called an emergency meeting of state governors and mayors to discuss how to tackle violent crime after Monica Spear, 29, was killed alongside former husband, Thomas Henry Berry, 39, a Londoner whose sister lives in Scotland.
Ms Spear and Mr Berry were shot dead by armed robbers at around 10:30pm on Monday night as they returned from holiday by car with their five-year-old daughter, Maya, on an isolated road heading to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
Police said the pair tried to foil the robbers by locking themselves in their Toyota Corolla after its tyres had been punctured by an obstacle deliberately placed on the road. The gang shot them where they sat.
A single bullet pierced Ms Spear’s right side, killing her, said her manager, Katty Pulido, who said she had spoken to police investigators. Mr Berry was killed by three bullets to his chest, while their daughter was wounded in the right leg by a bullet that did not strike bone, she added. She is now recovering in hospital.
Hundreds of actors and writers protested in Caracas subsequently, demanding Mr Maduro’s government acts to protect its citizens in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates.
More than nine in ten murders go unsolved in the troubled oil-rich nation, according to the independent Venezuelan Violence Observatory.
The murders of Ms Spear and Mr Berry followed a pattern of late-night attacks where cars had their tyres burst by obstacles put on roads.
The director of the Violence Observatory, Roberto Briceno, said the killings “bring into relief a common reality of daily life in Venezuela,” where nearly 45,000 people were murdered last year – 79 for every 100,000 Venezuelans.
“One need not necessarily be flashing around signs of wealth to be a victim,” he said.
Prosecutors said seven suspects had been arrested over the killing, saying in a statement that “various belongings of the victims were seized”. The statement provided few other details aside from giving the names of all the suspects except for two juveniles, one aged 15 and the other 17.
Mr Maduro promised “better co-ordination” in the fight against crime in a speech to Wednesday’s swiftly convened security meeting, originally scheduled for later this month.
He called the killing of Ms Spear “a slap in the face” but did not propose any fundamental changes to law enforcement.
Opposition leaders, including Leopoldo Lopez, have blamed Ms Spear’s death squarely on the government, which Mr Lopez on Twitter called “an accomplice of armed groups, judicial corruption, arms trafficking”.
Maya told police the criminals killed her parents “out of vengeance”, Ms Pulido added.
“This happens a lot in Venezuela,” she said of fatal shootings during armed robberies. “[Police] cover it up but they can’t when the victims are well-known.”
Ms Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004 and was a Miss Universe runner-up in 2005. She acted in many soaps, most recently in the Telemundo network’s Pasion Prohibida.