Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Cartoonist storms Miami newspaper with fake gun

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MIAMI

A political cartoonist for the Spanish-language counterpart of the Miami Herald stormed the newspaper building on Friday morning dressed in an FBI shirt and armed with a fake semiautomatic weapon, issued threats against the paper's editor and others and held officers at bay for three hours before surrendering, police said.

The cartoonist, Jose Varela, 50, was charged with three counts of aggravated assault, the police said. No one was hurt.

Varela, a Cuban-born freelancer who until February had worked as a staff cartoonist at the paper, El Nuevo Herald, claimed to be upset about biased coverage of Cuban-Americans in both El Nuevo Herald and its sister paper, the Miami Herald, said Miami Police Chief John Timoney.

truth be told

"One of his demands was he wanted that the truth be told," he said.

The newspapers, which are owned by the McClatchy Co and published in the same building, have been engulfed in Cuban-American politics and intrigue of late.

Last month, the Miami Herald broke the story that some reporters for El Nuevo Herald were also working for and being paid by Radio and TV Marti, the government's anti-Castro propaganda radio station broadcast to Cuba. Relations between the two papers, often tense, became outright hostile, and the publisher of both papers resigned.

According to the Herald's Web site, Varela, a Cuban immigrant, demanded the resignations of its executive editor, Tom Fiedler, and El Nuevo Herald's executive editor, Humberto Castello, accusing him of backing Fiedler.

This week, Fiedler accused an op-ed contributor for El Nuevo Herald of "blood libel" for suggesting that a Herald reporter who broke the Marti story had ties to Cuba's spy agency. In an editor's note, Castello called the spy claim unfounded.

But Varela was also apparently having personal problems. El Nuevo Herald's Web site said he had recently divorced and told colleagues last week that he had gotten a submachine gun and a sawed-off shotgun because he felt unsafe in his new home in Jupiter, a wealthy enclave near West Palm Beach.

not the first time

It was not the first time that a gunman had caused havoc at the Herald's boxy tan headquarters on Biscayne Bay. Last year, a former city commissioner facing corruption charges killed himself in the building's lobby after an anguished phone call to a Herald columnist.

The columnist was later fired after it was revealed he had taped the conversation.

Around 11am on Friday, the police said, Varela came to the building, was allowed in by the security desk since he was a frequent visitor, and, once at El Nuevo Herald's offices on the sixth floor, demanded to speak to Castello.

"He threw a bunch of papers in the air," said Alejandra Chaparro, a reporter for El Nuevo Herald. "He was demanding that the editor has to take responsibility."

Told that Castello was not in the building, Varela declared, "I am the publisher until Humberto Castello gets here," the Herald reported on its Web site.

A building security manager, Arturo Le Fleur, told the Herald that Varela pointed the gun facsimile at him.

Police officers quickly evacuated the building and isolated Varela on the sixth floor. Two hours of negotiations ensued. Detective Serafin Ordonez, a police negotiator, said he talked with Varela about his art, his family and a shoulder injury to try to calm him down.

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