Reporting: Central America
RADIO JOURNALIST'S MURDER CASE UNRAVELING
By Jay Brodell
American Reporter correspondent
San José, Costa Rica
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Feb. 16, 2004 —- Parmenio Medina Perez has been dead for nearly three years, but he still haunts the politicians and the prosecutors in this normally quiet Central American country better known for its beaches.
Medina ran a popular and biting radio show known for afflicting the important. Hitmen caught up with him near his home in nearby Santo Domingo de Heredia July 7, 2001. The murder shocked the nation.
A Roman Catholic priest and a businessman emerged as the principal suspects. But if they didn't do it, suspicion falls on highly placed politicians. The case against the pair is beginning to unravel.
The priest, the Rev. Minor de Jesus Calvo Aguilar, also is no stranger to radio. After delivering a series of religious messages on radio and television, he founded Radio Maria, a listener-supported station that delivered a Catholic message and music to match. Maria, or Mary, the mother of Jesus, would win a popularity contest here hands down against God the Father or God the Son. The Black Virgin, whose statue dominates a basilica in the nearby colonial capital of Cartago, is the nation's patroness.
The name of Medina's 28-year-old radio show was "La Patada," meaning the kick. He started kicking Radio Maria and those associated with it in October 1999. That included the priest known here as Father Minor.
Someone connected with Radio Maria slipped Medina accounting information, and he criticized the expenses being generated by the radio station. He also talked with Roman Arieta, the then-archbishop of San Jose. The radio commentator later said that the corruption in the Catholic Church was not just restricted to Radio Maria.
Medina also leveled criticism at Oscar Chaves, the businessman who has helped finance the station. He reported that Chavez was surrounded by lawyers and had left a wake of suspect business transactions, including one that resulted in a criminal charge.
The major issue of Radio Maria was the origin of the money used to finance it and the expenses run up by those in charge. Medina once said that Father Minor was living like a king. Some money came from outside Costa Rica.
But the revelation that grabbed the attention of the public was a report by Medina that Father Minor had been accosted by local police at a dark, sprawling park and that a young man was in the car with the priest. Father Minor's explanation that he was giving the lad driving lessons was not universally accepted.
Despite the revelations, Radio Maria enjoyed strong public support. Radio Monumental suspended Medina's show in April 2001 because he would not eliminate personal references to Father Minor and the archbishop in the script.
A month later, the Episcopal Conference or assembly of bishops of the country ordered Radio Maria shut down. Father Minor complied due to his religious status and acceptance of Church authority.
Just a week before his death, Medina gave an interview to Semanario Universidad, the weekly newspaper of the University of Costa Rica. A month earlier the Costa Rican supreme court ordered Radio Monumental to reinstate the show for the term of Medina's contract.
But Medina noted that his show's contract was up soon, and that he had not divulged more than 20 percent of the information he had about Radio Maria. He told the newspaper that he would not continue his show but perhaps he would write a book about the situation. He also said he would do no more reporting on Radio Maria.
Medina described himself as a Catholic believer but not a practicing one. He told the weekly newspaper:
"After all I have investigated, I do not have a doubt that in some sectors of the Catholic church there are serious problems of corruption because the irregularities are not just present with Radio Maria."
No one believes that Father Minor and Chaves actually pulled the trigger. Prosecutors claim that the pair negotiated with a middleman to find local gang members to do the job. Some suspected triggermen are in jail on other charges. Some are dead.
The case involved a long investigation. Chaves was not arrested until Dec. 26. Father Minor was in a hotel room in another city on his way to a Christmas vacation about 3:30 a.m. the next morning when investigators showed up.
A change in the nation's top prosecutor preceded the raid. Francisco Dall'Annese, the new fiscal general, promised to bring charges in the Parmenio Medina case.
The priest and the businessman are in jail under what is called here preventative detention. The alleged intermediary recanted Feb. 10. This man who had been called the government's star witness is Jhon Gilberto Gutierrez. Last Nov. 11 he signed a declaration that said he had been an intermediary who helped set up the slaying.
The government claims that Father Minor and Chaves relied on Gutierrez to find the triggermen. Gutierrez went on national television Feb. 11 from his prison to say he did not know Chaves and only saw Father Minor on television. He also said he did not meet with the men in the downtown hotel where the alleged deal took place.
The local press later reported that Gutierrez had struck his own deal with prosecutors that would enable him to go free after signing the declaration. But prosecutors stalled, and the man recanted. He is in jail on an unrelated case.
The motive of Father Minor and Chaves would seem to have weakened after Medina said he would not continue with his crusade. The rumor has circulated that Medina was working on a blockbuster political revelation that would have affected the national elections seven months after his death. No specifics have come forward.
The assassination of Medina seems to have given others the same idea. Ivannia Mora Rodriguez, 33, a mother who was a magazine financial editor, died Dec. 23 when gunmen on a motorcycle fired through her driver's side window. A companion was unhurt and the circumstances made clear that the event was an assassination and not an attempted car theft. A former colleague was held briefly and then released.
In Managua, Nicaragua, to the north an assassin gunned down controversial radio and television commentator Carlos José Guadamuz Portillo on Feb. 10 in front of a television station where he was going to broadcast. Enrique Bolanos, president of Nicaragua, said the country was dismayed by the killing. He noted in a statement that no journalist had been killed in the country for more than 26 years.
Jay Brodell is editor of A.M. Costa Rica, an English-language Internet daily newspaper at http://www.amcostarica.com.