Mother-in-law says Venezuelan boxer Edwin Valero had grown more violent recently

By Jorge Rueda, AP
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boxer’s deaths leaves questions in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — Former boxing champion Edwin Valero was addicted to cocaine and had grown increasingly violent before he was arrested in his wife’s murder and hanged himself in a Venezuelan jail, his mother-in-law said Tuesday.

The fighter’s wife, Jennifer Carolina Viera, had told her family that Valero “didn’t sleep, he didn’t eat, he used drugs every day and he was growing more violent all the time,” Mary Finol told reporters at her daughter’s funeral in El Vigia in western Venezuela.

Valero, who gained fame with a record of 27 straight knockouts and a huge tattoo of President Hugo Chavez on his chest, was arrested Sunday in the stabbing death of his 24-year-old wife. Police said the boxer hanged himself in his cell early Monday.

Venezuelans have been asking what went wrong in Valero’s life and why authorities hadn’t stepped in after past incidents of domestic violence.

Some 50 Venezuelan organizations, including women’s rights groups and others, criticized the handling of the case by the government, saying there has been a pattern of indifference to violence against women in Venezuela.

Authorities “didn’t do more than look away, and therefore they’re responsible by omission for this crime,” the groups said in a statement. The justice system “didn’t act with due diligence, wasn’t fair or efficient,” and didn’t provide protection for Valero’s wife, it added.

Jorge Linares, a Venezuelan who is a former WBA super featherweight champion, said the case has been “a hard blow for the sport, for those of us who appreciated him … and for all Venezuelans.”

“What’s important is that we learn a lesson,” Linares said. “We admired him as an athlete, but we never did anything to help him with his problems. We could have started by making public his problems and not hiding anything.”

Valero’s funeral was scheduled for Wednesday.

Valero, a former WBA super featherweight and WBC lightweight champion, had a turbulent disposition and had been in trouble with the law before, both for violent outbursts and problems with alcohol and drugs.

Since 2008, Venezuelan news reports had repeatedly linked Valero to domestic violence incidents, but the fighter and his supporters denied those reports. Until recently, authorities had not commented publicly.

“We all looked away not to admit what was going on,” the boxer’s manager, Jose Castillo, told reporters Monday. He said authorities also “were very permissive with him and because of that we’re now in the middle of this tragedy.”

As he gained fame in boxing, Valero appeared as a special guest at events hosted by Chavez and was lionized by some of the president’s supporters as a national hero, while some critics accused the fighter of avoiding punishment for past problems due to his links to the government.

In September, Valero denied he had been detained on domestic violence charges after Venezuelan news reports said a neighbor called emergency services and told authorities the boxer had struck his mother and a sister.

Five months earlier, in circumstances that were never clarified by authorities, the boxer’s wife was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to her left leg. Officials said at the time that Viera was thought to have been shot outside her house by an unknown attacker on a motorcycle.

Last month, Valero was charged with harassing his wife and threatening medical personnel who treated her at a hospital in the western city of Merida. Police arrested him following an argument with a doctor and nurse at the hospital, where his wife was being treated for injuries that included a punctured lung and broken ribs.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that Valero was detained March 25 on suspicion of assaulting his wife, but his wife told a police officer her injuries were caused by a fall.

Valero’s lawyer, Milda Mora, said that after that incident, the boxer was held for nine days in a psychiatric hospital in Merida, where he underwent police-supervised rehabilitation. She said people close to the fighter posted bail April 7 and he was allowed to go free.

“The court put him in rehab for six months and somehow he got out in a weekend,” said Valero’s promoter, Bob Arum, the founder of Top Rank. “I never talked to him during this period, I only talked to his manager. They were trying to get him to come to Mexico, to start training and cleaning himself up.”

“It’s obvious now, in retrospect, that he should have been institutionalized during this period, but it’s silly to play the blame game,” Arum said.

Mora said the Venezuelan government had arranged for Valero to attend a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Cuba. He had missed a flight to Cuba and was scheduled to fly there soon, she said.

Valero grew up in poverty, the third of eight brothers, and he started boxing at age 12.

Valero’s mother-in-law said he started using cocaine around the same time and he “lived constantly in the streets, with bad groups.” Finol said he didn’t finish school and sold fruit to make a living while drinking liquor from a young age.

The fighter had a stellar 27-0 record, all of them knockouts, and had his last victory in Mexico in February over Antonio DeMarco.

Valero was replaced as WBC lightweight champion in February after he expressed a desire to compete in a higher weight division.

AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in New York and Associated Press Writer Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed to this report.

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