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Murder of Former Miss Venezuela Reignites Discussion About Violent Crime

El hermano de Monica Spear al frente de la procesión que lleva el ataúd de la joven actriz fallecida. 10 de enero, 2014. Foto por Carlos Becerra, Copyright Demotix

Mónica Spear's brother leads the funeral procession carrying the casket of the late young actress. January 10, 2014. Photo by Carlos Becerra, Copyright Demotix

In a country with 24,763 violent deaths last year, what must happen to bring the issue of a general lack of safety to the fore of public debate, for both the government and the people?

It seems that this violence, which increases [es] each year, had to affect a public figure for the taboo topic (it's been ten years since the official channels have provided statistics about the murder rate) to be mentioned on national TV [es] by President Nicolás Maduro and state media, which have not covered similar events for years.

Actress Mónica Spear, her ex-husband, Thomas Berry, and their five year old daughter, Maya Berry, were attacked by armed robbers while they were waiting for help after getting into an accident on a highway, caused when they hit an object placed on the road by criminals to force drivers to stop. Spear and her ex-husband died at the scene and their daughter was shot and injured [es].

The news broke the next morning and immediately took over the social networks and various media, both inside and outside Venezuela. The reason, beyond the shock of the crime, is that it intensified Venezuelans’ fear of being another statistic.

In a post titled ”Rojo sobre negro” [es] on the blog Rostros de Viento [es], José Urriola [es] described his perspective on the crash that caused the incident:

Muchos venezolanos dentro y fuera de las fronteras. Nos quedamos en shock. Mudos. Indignados. Presos de pánico, dolor y frustración. Tan descolocados que no había (no hay) palabras para expresarlo. El asesinato de la actriz, modelo y ex Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, junto con su marido y en presencia de su pequeña hija de 5 años -quien resultara herida en una pierna cuando unos maleantes abalearon  el auto donde se habían quedados accidentados- fue como una bomba de realidad, asco y miedo que nos estalló en la cara. No significa que esta muerte pese más que las otras 25 mil que anualmente cobra el hampa en Venezuela, no se trata de que importe más porque se trate esta vez  de una figura pública querida dentro y fuera del país, sino que encaramos una muerte especialmente significativa, un símbolo más del horror impronunciable al que estamos sometidos nosotros y los nuestros en una sociedad descompuesta.

Many Venezuelans inside and outside our borders. We are in shock. Mute. Indignant. Prisoners of panic, pain and frustration. So discombobulated that there were (there are) no words to express it. The murder of actress, model and former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear, along with her husband and in front of their five year old daughter—whose leg was injured when some thugs shot into the car that had broken down—was like a bomb, exploding reality, disgust and fear in our faces. That's not to say that this death outweighs the other 25 thousand caused annually by criminals in Venezuela, it's not that it matters more because she was a public figure, beloved both inside and outside the country, but rather that we are facing a particularly significant death, another symbol of the unspeakable horror to which we and our loved ones are subjected in an unraveling society.

Meanwhile, many bloggers and Facebook users described their own experiences and those of their communities to show that crime has infiltrated the whole country.

In a Facebook note [es], Víctor Hugo Majano reflected on what happened to the actress, linking it with what has been happening in his community:

El hecho es que no se trata de una situación aislada: en todo el país funcionan y crecen grupos delictivos con poder de fuego y suficiente locura para matar a la primera. Y además legitimados artística, cultural y socialmente. Basta con ver la cantidad de carajitos y carajitas que se toman fotos exhibiendo armas con el rostro descubierto. 

Esta mezcla de acceso a enormes recursos financieros, dirección especializada por policías corrompidos, drogas sin límite y arrojo juvenil ha conformado una maquinaria gigantesca de muerte y destrucción en todo el país. Sin duda es el momento para hacerle frente.

The truth is that this isn't an isolated situation: around the country, criminal groups are operating and growing with firepower and enough insanity to kill at the drop of a hat. And they are legitimized artistically, culturally and socially. Just look at the number of kids taking photos of themselves with weapons, their faces uncovered.

This combination of access to substantial financial resources, a specialized agency for corrupt cops, unlimited drugs and adolescent fearlessness has created a gigantic machine of death and destruction across the country. Surely now is the time to address it. 

Monica Spear era embajadora de Asodeco (Asociación para el Desarrollo de Educación Especial Complementaria), una Asociación Civil sin fines de lucro que trabaja con jóvenes y adultos con discapacidad. Jóvenes de Asodeco hablan en el funeral de Mónica Spear.

Mónica Spear was the ambassador for ASODECO (The Association for the Development of Supplemental Special Education), a non-profit that works with special needs children and adults. Young representatives from ASODECO speak at Mónica Spear's funeral. January 10, 2014. Photo by Carlos Becerra, Copyright Demotix

Demonstrations were organized by a Venezuelan actress [es] to demand that various public authorities take action to curb organized crime. Since polarization works full-time in Venezuela, artists who support the government [es] asked that no one politicize the event, from Miraflores Palace (home of the executive branch).

While many believe the government is responsible for the out-of-control violence, others think responsibility is shared with the dissemination of media depicting “anti-values” and violent imagery. In his post ”Perdón por lo que les voy a decir (Caso Mónica Spears),” [es] Jorge Acosta says:

Aquí les va la primera razón para que me crucifiquen, la que a nadie le gusta oír, la que a nadie le agrada, y es que esa televisión que a usted y a sus hijos tanto le gusta, esa pantalla plana de no sé cuantas pulgadas que obtuvo y que pagó bien caro, es culpable en buena medida de la violencia que vive no solo Venezuela, sino el resto de las sociedades del mundo entero, con muy pocas excepciones, las cuales respondieron a este problema sin tanto vericueto. Duras legislaciones son las que han logrado reducir a su mínima expresión este flagelo. ¿Estamos preparados para ellas? ¿Estamos preparados para una pena de muerte con el poder judicial que aún tenemos? 

Les aseguro que todos, en el fondo, estamos conscientes del papel perturbador y nocivo que tienen la gran mayoría de las series, telenovelas, películas, etc sobre nuestra sociedad, niños sobretodo. Es un hecho científicamente comprobado. ¿Y entonces?

Here's the first reason to crucify me, what no one wants to hear, what nobody likes, and it's that that television that you and your kids are so fond of, that flatscreen with however many inches that you bought and paid dearly for, is largely responsible for the violence thriving not only in Venezuela, but in every society around the world, with few exceptions, which have responded to this problem without any nuance. Harsh laws are successful in reducing this scourge to a minimum. Are we prepared for them? Are we prepared for a death penalty with the judicial branch that we have?

I assure you that all of us, deep down, know about the disturbing and harmful role played by the great majority of series, telenovelas, movies, etc. on our society, on children above all. It's a scientific fact. So what now?

Case closed

The culprits were arrested in less than two days, a record speed considering that the rate of impunity [es] in the country is over 90%. To do so, the head of the law enforcement department in charge of investigating homicides in the country relocated to the capital, Caracas, to be closer to the scene of the crime.

The minister of Interior Relations, Justice and Peace flew over the area in a helicopter, causing outrage on social networks, as it made clear that the other homicides are not treated with the same import.

Luis Carlos Díaz (@LuisCarlos) [es] reflected on this several times on his timeline: 

Now you've got to create a strategy so your deaths don't go unnoticed by the authorities.

Luis Carlos also wrote on Facebook [es]:

Es un insulto para el pueblo, sobre todo el más pobre, ver cómo el poder le da celeridad a un caso por su impacto mediático. Encienden la tele y ven un despertar ficticio al tema de la violencia, pero no por su familiar. Mañana pasará y tampoco habrá justicia ni reparo en su humilde caso.

It's an insult to the people, especially the poorest, to see how quickly power reacts to a case based on its impact in the media. Turn on the TV and you'll see a fictional awakening to the issue of violence, but not for your family member. Tomorrow it'll pass and there will be no justice for nor objections over your humble case.

Meanwhile, Víctor Amaya (@victoramaya) [es] tweeted that impunity is due to an unwillingness on the part of the department in charge of investigating homicides:

Today the Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency (CICPC) demonstrated that when they don't nab a murderer, it's simply because they don't feel like it. In two days they caught the whole gang.

Mónica Spear and Thomas Berry were buried on January 10 in Caracas. A huge crowd of fans of the former beauty queen and actress went to the cemetery to say goodbye.

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