Monday 6 February 2023

Troll claims to have been paid by Health Minister for attacks on journalists

Calandrelli assures that this is the tip of the iceberg

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QCOSTARICA (La Nacion, Crhoy) Alberto Jesús Vargas Zúñiga, the person behind the fictional character, the the well-known troll Piero Calandrelli, assures that the Minister of Health, Joselyn Chacón, paid him for months to produce and publish attacks against journalists on social networks.

Alberto Jesús Vargas Zúñiga (left) is the creator and manager of the fictional character Piero Calandrelli (right). According to what he told ‘La Nación’, the pseudonym is the name of a very close friend who has passed away; Minister of Health, Joselyn Chacón (center). Image La Nacion

The content was disseminated on Facebook and TikTok and also extended to those who criticized the minister in general.

Vargas, a 37-year-old Costa Rican, admitted that the attacks were made by way of the fictional character created in 2019 and has 31,000 followers on Facebook and 14,300 on Tiktok.

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La Nacion reports that the content paid for by Chacón was published between July and September of this year, which included the production and dissemination of attacks against Crhoy.com journalist Jason Ureña, who reported on the disagreements between the Vaccination Commission and the Minister.

CRhoy.com reports that Chacón also threatened the director of the online media, Jimena Soto, after requesting a reaction from her after the statements given by the troll to La Nación.

“Given the press releases that involve the Minister of Health, Joselyn Chacón, with possible payments to a troll to defame and attack members of the national press, from the Institute of Press and Freedom of Expression we censor these actions (…),” said the Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión (IPLEX) in a statement.

Vargas, in an interview, indicated that this is just the “tip of the iceberg” and that he has the evidence that supports his accusations against the minister. In addition, he revealed that he received payments of ¢100,000 as part of the work he apparently did.

“She (Chacón) told me through messages, for example, ‘hit Jason Ureña from CRHoy hard, hit him with everything, because he’s a cursed man,’” Vargas said in a telephone interview with La Nacion on Wednesday, December 21.

From La Nacion

Link to the Facebook post

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Vargas narrated that Chacón requested the publications, through WhatsApp messages. However, he asserted that, for payments, he used an intermediary, who is a Ministry official named Richard Gutiérrez Cuesta.

The Sistema Centralizado de Recaudación (Sicere) – Centralized Collection System, of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) -Costa Rican Social Security Fund, confirmed that, indeed, Gutiérrez has been an employee of the CCSS since June.

“She sent a public official to make the deposits and, in the reason for the deposits, he noted that it was for university aid, which was not true,” sadi Vargas, who affirms he has the bank receipts.

“It was for a very short time, because Joselyn has no emotional intelligence and she was asking me to edit and post videos that are not in line with my values. Honestly, that’s why I made the decision to step aside. I told Joselyn: ‘That is not correct, you are currently holding a very important position for you to start arguing with journalists or with anyone who is not attached to your political line,'” Vargas declared.

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La Nacion reports that Vargas decided to go public four days after the minister published on her Facebook page, Saturday, December 17, that Alberto Vargas, through his character Piero Calandrelli, “extorts financial money from people.”

La Nacion also reports that in a review of Facebook and Tiktok accounts, at least 30 publications and a dozen videos were detected in favor of the Minister of Health, between July 12 and October 19, 2022.

For example, one of the videos directly attacks CRHoy journalists Jason Ureña, Bharley Quirós and Carlos Mora, a publication Vargas admits to having produced and published at the request of Joselyn Chacón.

“The cruelty of the media CRHoy, at this point, seems ridiculous, exaggeratedly absurd, pathetic and laughable,” says Calandrelli in the first seconds of the video, which then proceeds to point out the alleged links between Crhoy.com  and the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN).

Joselyn Chacón, Minister of Health, From Facebook

No stranger to politics

Piero Calandrelli is no stranger to politics, his page focusing on the publication of content related to the now-former president Carlos Alvarado; the now-former first lady, Claudia Dobles; and the management of the ministers of the past government.

However, in the 2022 electoral campaign, the Calandrelli character announced that he would support the Partido Progreso Social Democrático (PPSD), sympathizing with the proposal of Rodrigo Chaves and the then legislative candidate, Pilar Cisneros.

Since then and during the first months of the Chaves administration, Piero Calandrelli praised the work of the Government and defended the cabinet from criticism.

Vargas affirmed that, before being hired by Joselyn Chacón, the publications on social networks on political issues were made on his own initiative, without receiving any payment, as one more sympathizer. He also assured that the rest of his clients are companies and that of government and legislative clients, he has only done paid work for the Minister of Health.

On Monday, two days before Vargas talked to La Nacion, legislators of the Electoral Finance Investigative Commission approved a motion to call Alberto Vargas to appear, to explain and clarify, under oath, his relationship with Joselyn Chacón.

Sources: La Nacion, Crhoy.com

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