Posted on Sat, Nov. 25, 2006
Man threatens El Nuevo Herald workers with plastic gun
MIAMI - A cartoonist carrying a toy gun surrendered to
police at The Miami Herald's building Friday, more than
two hours after arriving and demanding to see an editor
of the newspaper's Spanish-language sister paper, police
Jose Varela, 50, carried a knife and a black, plastic
toy gun that resembled a real semiautomatic weapon,
police said. He was taken to Miami-Dade County Jail on
Friday night and charged with three counts of aggravated
assault with a firearm. He was being held on $22,500
bond, jail officials said.
Police Chief John Timoney said Varela had problems with
El Nuevo Herald, including its position on Cuban emigres.
A police negotiator talked Varela into surrendering
peacefully at about 2:45 p.m., Timoney said. No shots
were fired and no injuries were reported.
"Once he calmed down and he realized what he was doing
was not appropriate, he decided we would work to bring
him out," said Detective Serafin Ordonez, a hostage
negotiator, who spoke by cell phone with Varela for 30
to 40 minutes in Spanish. "No one was in danger. He kept
repeating that he didn't want to hurt nobody, that he's
not a violent person, that he's not a criminal."
Varela was a contract cartoonist for the newspaper and
had routine access to the building, officials said.
He landed on Key West during the Mariel boatlift. In a
December 2004 El Nuevo Herald article, he recalled how
drawing got him into trouble as a child in Cuba.
"I remember that I was always a bad student in school
because I would draw cartoons of the teacher. For that,
they would remove me from class," he told the newspaper.
Varela told a reporter for The Miami Herald during
Friday's standoff he was "the new director of the
"I'm here to unmask the true conflicts in the
newspaper," Varela told The Miami Herald. "They laugh at
exiles here. There are problems with payment."
Varela called attorney Joe Garcia a couple of times from
inside the building, Garcia told The Associated Press in
a telephone interview. Garcia said Varela was concerned
about a conflict of interest at El Nuevo Herald.
"All that he wants people to know is that he wants the
truth to come out," Garcia said. "I think he needs some
time to work some things out."
Varela isolated himself in an editor's office on the
sixth floor of the downtown Miami building that houses
The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, police said.
Dressed all in black with the letters "FBI" across the
back of his polo shirt, he pointed the plastic gun at
three El Nuevo Herald employees and demanded to see the
newspaper's executive editor, Humberto Castello, police
The floor was evacuated, and officers carrying weapons
and wearing protective gear set up a perimeter around
the building, where evacuees gathered.
Rick Hirsch, The Miami Herald's managing editor for
multimedia, remained in the building on the fifth floor
with news staff trying to cover the story. He told the
AP the building has security guards, but they are not
"You have to have an ID to get in, but if this is
somebody who came into the building regularly, there'd
probably not be a problem," Hirsch said.
It was the second situation involving a gun at the
newspaper in the past year and a half. In July 2005,
former city commissioner Arthur E. Teele Jr. fatally
shot himself in the Herald lobby after asking to speak
with columnist Jim DeFede. Teele had been under
investigation for corruption and had just been indicted
by a federal grand jury on fraud charges.
DeFede was fired for recording his telephone
conversations with Teele without the politician's
permission just before the incident.