Leaving a legacy of achievements that stretch far beyond the realm of his professional work, renowned Costa Rican journalist and former Minister Joaquín Vargas Gené passed away Sunday after suffering a stroke. He was 83.
Called don Quincho by those who knew him, Vargas, a beloved friend of The Tico Times, excelled in the professions of journalism, law, education, agriculture and public service.
“Without a doubt, this is a great loss for the country. A very complete human being, with whom I had the honor of enjoying a long friendship, has left us,” Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, brother of President Oscar Arias, said in a statement.
Vargas is survived by his widow, Marta Castegnaro, his only son Joaquín, 55, two grandchildren and his twin brother, Carlos.
“He lived such an active life. In his work as well as his actions, he was always a man of great passion,” Castegnaro told The Tico Times.
Castegnaro and Vargas met at the daily La Nación, where he worked as journalist and later editor-in-chief and she as a history columnist for 40 years. They built a 57-year marriage based on solidarity, Castegnaro said.
Vargas studied law at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and journalism at Madrid’s ComplutenseUniversity. His publications include El Nuevo San Lucas, (The New San Lucas), about the island off the Pacific province of Puntarenas that housed a prison for years, and an authorized biography of Nicaraguan rebel leader Edén Pastora that remains unpublished, according to Castegnaro.
He came from a family of conflict reporters who received multiple injuries, she said. Vargas lost his brother, Jorge, who was wounded as he reported a Nicaraguan invasion of Costa Rica at Santa Rosa, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, in 1955. His father was wounded in a violent uprising in 1932, and his twin brother Carlos was wounded in the 1984 bombing of an international press conference in La Penca, Nicaragua (TT, June 8, 1984).
Among his many achievements, Vargas founded the Costa Rican Journalists’ Association, was director of the daily La República and the now-defunct Diario Costa Rica, and worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press news service. He also headed five ministries during the administration of former President Mario Echandi (1958-1962), when he was simultaneously Minister of Justice, Public Security, the Interior, Governance, and the Presidency. As a government official, Vargas worked to improve living conditions in the country’s prisons and reformed the Penal Code.
He taught journalism at the Autonomous University of Central America (UACA) and UCR.
Eduardo Ulibarri, former editor of La Nación and president of the Institute for Freedom of Press, Expression and Public Information (IPLEX), remembers Vargas from his History of Journalism class at UCR years ago.
Ulibarri told The Tico Times he recalls his former teacher as a “source of motivation and inspiration.”
“I remember him as a very pleasant person, full of anecdotes and experiences,” he said.
At UACA, Vargas taught journalism legislation to Tico Times publisher Dery Dyer, who views him as a journalism icon.
“He was one of these giants of journalism. He’s going to be missed. He was an example for many generations of journalists,” Dyer said.