LATIN AMERICA

Maduro agrees to work with opposition on anti-crime plan

Venezuelans express outrage over actress’s murder

A woman holds up a photograph of Mónica Spear and her ex-husband at a rally in Caracas.
A woman holds up a photograph of Mónica Spear and her ex-husband at a rally in Caracas.AP

Acknowledging for the first time in public that the murder rate spiked in his country at the end of last year, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on Wednesday the drafting of a national security plan after holding a high-level meeting with governors and mayors, including opposition politicians.

A one-month process of dialogue and discussion between the government, state governors and 79 mayors of Venezuela’s most dangerous cities will take place before the national plan of action is introduced, Maduro said.

As recently as last weekend, it was inconceivable that Maduro would sit down in the same room with his former election rival, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who serves as governor of Miranda state. But the shocking murders Monday night of a beloved Venezuelan soap opera actress and her former husband, allied with a growing demand for crackdowns on crime, made it possible on Wednesday. Maduro and Capriles were photographed shaking hands after the meeting. It was a brief moment but it enough to demonstrate that the two are willing to work together after months of heated words and accusations since last April’s contested election.

Venezuela is still reeling from the murders of actress Mónica Spear, a 29-year-old former Miss Venezuela, and her ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry, 39, who were gunned down on a highway as they waited for a tow truck to repair a flat tire on their vehicle.

Seven suspects have been arrested, including a woman and two juveniles, police say, who tried to rob them. When the pair resisted and locked themselves inside their vehicle, the gunmen shot them both through the windows, killing them instantly and wounding their five-year-old daughter.

“The slaughter of Mónica Spear and her husband is a slap in the face of everyone,” Maduro said at the meeting.

In a statement, the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office said that it had found some personal items belonging to Spear and Berry during raids conducted at the arrested suspects’ homes.

A group of prominent television actors also held a rally at Caracas square before marching to the National Assembly to deliver a document calling on lawmakers for “a serious security plan.” Many of them, who once worked with Spear on different TV shows, cried and held pictures of the murdered former beauty queen.

According to NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Violence, 24,763 murders took place last year, or about 79 homicides for every 100,000 residents.

The government and the opposition have made a commitment to come up with “a work time table to fight crime” in all of Venezuela’s 23 states, the federal district and the federal dependency, said Vice President Jorge Arreaza on his Twitter account.

As Venezuelans expressed outrage over the high-profile murders, the vice president recognized that the government had to work swiftly on a plan it has been designing to combat crime. Maduro and his team are reportedly coming up with plans to adopt strict measures, which could include suspending some constitutional guarantees.

In his address before the governors and mayors, Maduro recognized that the country’s crime rate was out of control but he offered no official figures. He insisted on disarming all Venezuelans. “They must turn over their weapons. No one should be able to own a weapon,” he said, explaining that only police and the military should be armed.