Venezuelans pay their last respects to murdered couple
Former beauty queen and her British ex-husband killed in front of their five-year-old daughter
Monica Spear after she was crowned Miss Venezuela, in Caracas in 2004. Photograph: Chico Sanchez/EPA
Relatives carry the coffin of Monica Spear and that of her ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry during their funeral in Caracas. Photorgraph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Hundreds of Venezuelans paid their final respects to a popular actress whose killing in front of her five-year-old daughter has reignited debate about the nation’s rampant crime.
They were apparently trying to resist a robbery attempt after their car broke down on an isolated stretch of highway.
Yesterday fellow artists and relatives of Ms Spear, some holding pictures of the actress, formed queues lines to bid farewell at a funeral in Caracas. Her sister threw flowers to weeping fans.
While the authorities swiftly arrested several suspects, the killings focused attention on President Nicolas Maduro over the government’s failure to bring down violent crime that has soared during more than 14 years of socialist rule.
So far Mr Maduro’s response has been to extend an olive branch to the opposition, which he normally derides, and collect proposals for a united front to combat crime.
Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with more killings every year than war-ravaged Iraq, whose population is about the same.
The Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates more than 24,000 people were killed last year, pushing the murder rate up to 79 for every 100,000 Venezuelans.
The government disputes that finding. It says the murder rate fell last year to 39 per 100,000 inhabitants, but it has gradually blocked access to murder statistics in recent years.
Ms Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004 and competed in the Miss Universe pageant the following year. She acted in numerous soap operas, most recently in Pasion Prohibida for the US-based Telemundo network.
Her father, Rafael Spear, said yesterday that his granddaughter, Maya Berry Spear, is recovering from a bullet wound in her right leg.
He said the two families have agreed the five-year-old should be taken to the US by her maternal grandparents, who live in Orlando, Florida, and be raised there.