Former Miss Venezuela and telenovela actress Mónica Spear and her husband were murdered along a highway between Puerto Cabello and Valencia Monday night in an apparent robbery attempt after their car had broken down. Their five year old daughter survived the attack, but was shot in the leg. Spear’s murder is certainly the most high-profile in the country in several years, but only because she was famous in her own right, not because the incident itself was particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, Spear’s murder is particularly upsetting because events like that have become so commonplace in Venezuela in the past decade.
For some context, the murder rate in Venezuela in 2013 is estimated to be as high as 79 per 100,000 people, although there are no official statistics released anymore. That is nearly four times the murder rate (22 per 100,000) in Mexico in 2012, even as Mexico remains embroiled in violence as a result of its role in the Drug War. Similarly, Colombia, which is famous for its violent drug cartels and paramilitaries and where the FARC and ELN remain active, the murder rate was only 33 per 100,000 in 2011 according to the UNODC. Even during its most violent periods in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s, the murder rate never surpassed 71.8 per 100,000. The only country in the world in 2011 which had a higher murder rate than the estimated one in Venezuela is Honduras, at 91.6 per 100,000. Honduras, however, is an extremely poor country that, since the coup in 2009, has had a barely functioning government and sits in the middle of prime drug trafficking lanes. Compare it to Venezuela, which has traditionally been able to avoid the ravages of the drug trade and is a wealthy petrostate. Even if you accept the government’s dubious claims that homicides have fallen dramatically since Nicolás Maduro took power, the rate of 39 per 100,000 would still rank among the very highest in the world.
The issue is not just murders, either. Kidnappings have become extremely common in Venezuela, including high profile kidnappings such as Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos in 2011 or the Mexican ambassador in 2012.
The government has implemented a myriad of anti-violence plans in the past few years, including mobilizing the military to act as a security force. None has been successful, however, and many gang leaders are reputed to have ties to the government. Surely, a high profile case like this one will spur the government into some sort of action, though likely one as equally ineffective as its predecessors. Meanwhile, extreme violence–and the lasting effects that has on a society–will continue to be the norm in Venezuela.