Spin on Venezuelan star’s murder seeks to obscure rampant violence



Latin American leaders don’t know how to stop their violent-crime epidemic, but they sure know how to spin it.

Former Miss Venezuela and telenovela star Mónica Spear and her ex-husband were murdered last week during a botched highway robbery near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. Their 5-year-old daughter was shot, too, but survived. As the shocking news spread throughout Venezuela and then Miami, where Spear often lived and worked, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro hit a spin cycle I’ve seen countless other presidentes employ after high-profile homicides.

Maduro asserted that Spear’s killing didn’t look like the random, bloodthirsty banditry that has saddled oil-rich Venezuela with South America’s highest murder rate. Instead, he suggested it was a “ sicariato,” a planned assassination. Maduro said he’d “asked police leaders about every detail,” but unfortunately he didn’t offer any.

Which is probably because there aren’t any details of a sicariato to offer. Seven gang suspects have been arrested in the horrific Spear murders.

Evidence so far points to random, bloodthirsty banditry — and that’s exactly what Maduro wants to obscure.

Maduro has proven a less-than-competent head of state. But he did learn the art of deflection from his late mentor, left-wing firebrand Hugo Chávez. And he’s used it effectively by blaming Venezuela’s economic crises on a “right-wing conspiracy” instead of socialist mismanagement.

Now he’s bringing that instinct to Venezuela’s criminal chaos. Maduro knows that voters will be more outraged if a popular celebrity like Spear turns out to be the victim of an indiscriminate mayhem their government seems helpless to check. But they’re apt to be less so if they think the crime was a coldly calculated hit — a treacherous plot that authorities have less control over.

It’s politically useful, in other words, to frame Spear’s murder as a sort of sedition, an attack against the state as well as the citizenry. It helps steer that citizenry’s mind away from the fact that since the Chavista regime took power 15 years ago, Venezuela’s homicide rate has risen 140 percent, according to one estimate — and that 92 percent of those murders never result in arrests, let alone convictions.

Just before the last presidential election Chávez won, in 2012, I spoke with Luz Marina Morón, who lives in the Caracas barrio of Catia, considered a cradle of the Chavista movement. Morón, a nurse, had seen a brother-in-law, a niece and her son — who was shot in the face by a gangbanger who wanted his New Balance tennis shoes — murdered on Catia’s streets. No one has spent a day in jail for those separate killings.

She voted for Chávez’s opponent as a result — and Maduro is all too aware that exasperated defections like hers were a big reason he almost lost last April’s special election to succeed Chávez.

It’s why he recently trotted out his security minister to claim, with little supporting data, that Venezuela’s murder rate last year was 39 per 100,000 persons instead of the 79 per 100,000 that an independent crime-watch think tank has recorded. The latter figure might be high; but to most observers the low official number seems as delusional as Maduro’s implication that Spear’s murder was some sort of conspiracy.

But that obfuscation serves a larger purpose, not just for Maduro but for other leaders in Latin America — whose violent-crime stats make it arguably the world’s most dangerous region today. (Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, almost 90 per 1000,000 people, while the world’s 10 most violent cities are all in Latin America.)

It helps them hide the fact that they’re still unable or unwilling (or both) to build the police and judicial institutions — the basic rule of law — that rein in rampant criminality.

That’s especially true in Venezuela, where Chavismo’s authoritarianism has smothered democratic institutions from courts to legislatures to mayoral offices. Yet it’s a sad reality regionwide. During the darkest days of Mexico’s drug war, which has seen some 60,000 gangland murders since 2006, then President Felipe Calderón’s own deflective spin was his mantra that the victims were just criminals.

That isn’t true: The narco-carnage has claimed thousands of innocent lives, too. But even if it were, are Mexicans supposed to feel better knowing that so many of their countrymen prefer to be cartel mafiosi?

Calderón, a conservative who left office in 2012, was simply trying to shroud Mexico’s own institutional nakedness. He couldn’t, and neither can Maduro — no matter how many conspiracies he conjures.

Tim Padgett is Americas editor for WLRN-Miami Herald News.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category