Manuel de Dios Unanue
|Manuel de Dios Unanue|
|Born||January 4, 1943
|Died||March 11, 1992
Menson Asturias Restaurant, Queens, New York
Cause of death
|Shot in head|
|Bayamón, Puerto Rico|
|Alma mater||Interamerican University of Puerto Rico|
|Employer||former editor-in-chief El Diario-La Prensa; editor magazines Cambio XXI and Crimen|
|Notable work(s)||Book Secrets Of The Medellin Cartel|
|Partner(s)||Girlfriend Vicky Sanchez|
Manuel de Dios Unanue (4 January 1943 - 11 March 1992) was a veteran Cuban-born US journalist, former editor-in-chief of El Diario La Prensa, New York City's largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, radio show host, and anti-drug crusading editor of magazines Cambio XXI and Crimen. De Dios was murdered in Queens, New York, 11 March 1992, by an unknown assailant, later identified as Alejandro Wilson Mejia-Velez, allegedly acting on orders given by Cali cartel boss José Santacruz Londoño. The murder of de Dios was the first time a journalist had been killed by Colombian drug traffickers in the United States.
Manuel de Dios Unanue was born in Camaguey, Cuba, 4 January 1943. Along with his family, de Dios went into voluntary exile from Castro’s Cuba, settling first in Spain, before emigrating to Puerto Rico in 1967. De Dios received a M.S. in Criminology from the Inter-American University in Puerto Rico before relocating to New York City in 1973. In November 1978, de Dios was part of a group of expatriates who participated in a controversial "dialogue" with Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials and became a member of its Committee of 75. On Feb. 1, 1980, Committee of 75 turncoat, Rev. Manuel Espinosa, singled out de Dios and nine other members as being Castro "agents." After being gunned down on the evening of 11 March 1992, de Dios was laid to rest 14 March 1992, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He was survived by his mother, three sisters (one of them being Dr. Teresa de Dios Unanue, a notable educator and President of Atlantic University College in Guaynabo) and a brother, as well as his girlfriend and business partner Vicky Sanchez and their two year-old daughter Melody.
After arriving in New York City in 1973, de Dios went to work for the city’s Hispanic Criminal Justice Task Force, which was chaired by Marco Antonio Rigau. In 1977, he joined the staff of El Diario-La Prensa, New York City’s largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, first as a reporter, later as a columnist, then as editor-in-chief from 1984-1989. According to de Dios, he fell out of favor with his bosses at the newspaper in 1989 because of his unflattering coverage of then New York City Mayor Ed Koch and as a result he was let go. After leaving El Diario-La Prensa, de Dios hosted a radio show called "What Others Try To Silence," and he publicized alleged drug traffickers’ names on the air. In 1988, de Dios published a book, The Secrets of the Medellin Cartel. He was also the founding editor of two magazines, Cambio XXI, and Crimen, which he published up to the time of his death, and in them he exposed the names of alleged drug dealers and published photos of their activities. "He was absolutely the most prominent American journalist to expose the cartels," said Rossana Rosado, El Diario-La Prensa’s city editor.
On 11 March 1992, de Dios was sitting at the bar in Meson Asturias Restaurant in the Queens section of New York City when he was approached from behind and shot twice in the head by an unknown assailant. His murderer was later identified as Wilson Alejandro Mejia-Velez, an illegal alien who worked at a Staten Island chair factory. De Dios died instantly. New York Mayor David Dinkins posted a $10,000 reward, which was quickly raised to $70,000 by several media outlets at the urging of de Dios' colleagues. The murder plot was initiated when high-ranking members of a Colombian drug cartel hired John Mena to kill newspaper reporter and publisher Manuel de Dios Unanue. Mena then hired Juan Carlos Velasco to carry out the murder for $20,000. Velasco located Unanue and discovered that he frequented a restaurant called Meson Asturias. After one aborted attempt to kill Unanue, Velasco decided to sub-contract the murder to Jose James Benitez and Elkin Farley Salazar so that he could complete a drug deal in Miami. Velasco offered Benitez and Salazar $15,000 for the job, telling them that the victim was a drug dealer who owed him money. Velasco also told them that his wife, Elizabeth Castano, would provide them with information needed to locate and identify the victim. Benitez and Salazar then hired Wilson Alejandro Mejia Velez ("Mejia") to be the triggerman for $7,000. On March 11, 1992, Benitez, Salazar, Mejia, and Castano drove together to the Meson Asturias Restaurant. Castano showed the other three a picture of Unanue so that they could identify him. When they arrived at the restaurant, Castano peered through the restaurant's window and then signaled to the others that Unanue was inside. Benitez and Mejia entered the restaurant and confirmed that Unanue was there. The four then drove to a pool hall to drop off Castano. Benitez, Salazar, and Mejia then picked up a gun at Benitez's house and returned to the vicinity of the restaurant. Mejia entered the restaurant, shot Unanue twice in the head killing him, and made a getaway with Benitez and Salazar. After the murder, Benitez, Salazar, and Mejia called Castano and demanded payment. Castano then called Mena, who told her that he would need authorization from the cartel before providing the full amount. He advanced Castano $2,500 of his own money, which she paid to the three men. On March 12, 1992, Mena received $20,000 from the cartel for the murder. He gave Castano $16,500, after subtracting the $2,500 he had already given her and an additional $1,000 that Velasco owed him. Castano then paid Benitez and Salazar $12,500 and kept the remaining money for herself and Velasco. On October 21, 1992, Castano pleaded guilty to an information charging her with using a telephone to facilitate the murder-for-hire of Unanue in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958. Her cooperation with the government led to the indictments of Benitez and Mena, who in turn cooperated, leading to the convictions of Mejia, Salazar, two other assassins, and several high-level drug traffickers and money launderers.
On 5 May 1993, federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn charged John Mena, age 24, with arranging de Dios’ murder on behalf of the Cali cartel and also charged Alejandro Wilson Mejia-Velez, age 18, with being the shooter. At a news conference afterward, government officials stressed that the murder investigation had been given the same attention as one that might involve the murder of a police officer. "Any murder is obviously a heinous crime, but when the victim is murdered not for revenge or out of passion but because he has reported on the truth as he has found it," said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White at the same news conference, "we all are very much the victims here." Other conspirators arrested for de Dios’ murder were Juan Velasco, who turned informant and was given 15 years along with his wife Elizabeth Castano who also cooperated and was given an 18 year sentence. Another conspirator, Guillermo Gaviria, remained a fugitive until his arrest in Colombia 18 April 1999.
On 9 March 1994, Mejia-Velez, the only one of the conspirators to go before a jury, was convicted of killing de Dios. His conviction was based in large part on the testimony of Mena and two other conspirators, Elkin Farley Salazar and Jose James Benitez, who each received 18-year sentences in exchange for their testimony against Mejia-Velez. At Mejia-Velez’s trial, prosecution witnesses identified a leader of the Cali cartel, José Santacruz Londoño, as the instigator of the plot. Londoño, however, was at large in Colombia and due to extradition issues, could not be brought to the U.S. to stand trial for de Dios’ murder, even if found, according to deputy U.S. attorney Eric Friedberg. Co-conspirator and government informant John Mena avoided a possible life sentence and on May 10, 1996 was given 18 years for his part in arranging de Dios’ killing. Mena had earlier alleged it was Londoño who had ordered the hit on de Dios. Londoño was killed by Colombian police 5 March 1996, shortly after U.S. authorities made public its decision to withhold partial funding to Colombia’s government due to that country’s failure to prosecute its war on drug traffickers more aggressively.
After de Dios’ murder, it was determined that he was marked for death because of his reporting of the activities of the Cali cartel, according to authorities. "It looks like all the rules are off," said an unnamed detective involved in solving de Dios’ killing. Londoño allegedly ordered the murder of de Dios because of the journalist’s upcoming book called Partyloving Cali which threatened to further expose the drug trafficker’s activities, federal prosecutors asserted. Though the killing of anti-drug trafficking journalists was commonplace in Colombia, de Dios’ murder was the first to be committed on U.S. soil. "Many of us are very shook up. We thought we were immune," said Miguel Perez, who was a friend of de Dios as well as a fellow journalist and editor of the New York weekly Latino News. "The same tactics repeatedly used by Colombian cocaine traffickers in South America to silence their critics were used here and that is something we will not tolerate,” proclaimed Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown. New York Mayor David N. Dinkins declared, "This [conviction] will serve as a reminder to those who would seek to silence our society's crusaders, to murder the illuminators of our society's dark places and to undermine one of our fundamental national rights should know we will never rest in pursuing them."
In September 1998, the Manuel de Dios Unanue Journalism School, formerly M.S.142, opened at 610 Henry Street in Carroll Gardens, welcoming 120 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. The school was later merged with other schools in the district and moved to the John Jay High School building on Seventh Avenue in New York.
On June 28, 1995, the New York City Council, at the urging of bill sponsor Councilman Guillermo Linares (D-Manhattan), voted unanimously to designate 83rd Street, between Baxter and Roosevelt Avenues, Manuel de Dios Unanue Street, expanding on a decision made in March 1993, for New York City to set aside land on 83rd St as a park, designated the Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle, in honor of de Dios.
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