latin america

Venezuelan beauty queen’s murder triggers crackdown on crime

Maduro calls governors together after actress and ex-husband are gunned down

Mónica Spear, when she won the Miss Venezuela title in 2004.
Mónica Spear, when she won the Miss Venezuela title in 2004.ANDREW ALVAREZ / AFP

The shocking murder of a popular Venezuelan soap opera actress and her former husband has prompted the government of President Nicolás Maduro to take unprecedented action to crack down on the soaring homicide rate in Venezuela, which is one of the highest in the world.

On Tuesday, Maduro called for an urgent meeting of all the country’s governors — including those of the opposition, whom he rarely invites to high-level conferences — to discuss strategies for bringing down the country’s runaway murder rate.

Venezuelans were stunned by the murders of actress Mónica Spear, a former Miss Venezuela, and her Irish ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry, on a highway between Puerto Cabello and Valencia. The crime happened on Monday night, as the couple was returning to Caracas from the Andean city of Mérida with their five-year-old daughter. After two of their Toyota vehicle’s tires blew out, a tow truck came to collect the car. At that moment five armed men arrived on the scene and tried to rob them.

Police said that 29-year-old Spear, Berry and their daughter ran inside their vehicle to escape the gunmen, who began firing. The actress and her former husband, who owned a travel agency, died at the scene, according to José Gregorio Sierralta, director of Venezuela’s forensic police unit. Their young daughter was wounded in the leg but survived the incident. Five suspects, including two juveniles, have been arrested in the case.

For those who want to kill, we are coming after you with an iron fist”

Spear and Berry, 39, have become the latest — and perhaps most high profile — victims of Venezuela’s homicide frenzy. According to the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Violence, there were 24,763 murders in the country last year.

The wide coverage of the tragedy in both local and international media early Tuesday, and shocked and angry reactions from Spear’s fans and citizens on the social networks throughout the day, took the Maduro government by surprise and spurred it into action.

By midday, state broadcaster Venezolana de Television (VTV) — which has not covered crime stories for years now — showed Maduro meeting with a group from government-supporting platform Actors Movement for Life and Peace. One of those meeting with the president was actor Manuel Sosa, who had at one time been Spear’s boyfriend.

Maduro, who usually speaks in a thundering voice, was barely audible as he gave the shocking details of the case and offered condolences to the victims’ families. He said that he was calling together an urgent meeting later on Wednesday of all the state governors and mayors of 79 of the country’s most dangerous cities.

There were 24,763 murders last year, according to a Venezuelan NGO

“I ask the criminals who want to kill good men and women: what reasons do you have to commit murder?” he said. “I ask you this with anger and pain. I will assume my responsibility: for those who want to kill, we are coming after you with an iron fist. Make no mistake about it.”

The double murder also seems to have brought the opposition together in a rare show of support for the leftwing government.

“Nicolás, let us put aside our profound differences and join forces as a united front against crime,” wrote opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who is the governor of Miranda state, on his Twitter account.

Spear, who was born in Maracaibo, spent her time between Venezuela and Miami, where she was starring in a popular soap opera called Pasión Prohibida, which is being shown throughout Latin America. In 2004, she won the Miss Venezuela pageant and went on to become the fifth runner up in the Miss Universe contest the following year.

According to media reports, Berry was born in Ireland but grew up in Venezuela. He and his wife remained close friends following their divorce last year and vacationed together, according to the couple’s friends.