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November 25, 2006
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Man storms Miami Herald building with "gun"; surrenders after 2-hour standoff

Related Story: Gunman, hostage die in 23-hour Chicago standoff

The Associated Press

MIAMI- A cartoonist carrying a toy gun that looked real 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 said.

Jose Varela, 50, carried a knife and a black plastic toy gun that resembled a real semiautomatic weapon, police said. He was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. He was being held on $22,500 bond, jail officials said.

Varela had problems with El Nuevo Herald, where he worked as a contractor, including its position on Cuban emigres, said Police Chief John Timoney.

He had routine access to the building, officials said.

A police negotiator talked Varela into surrendering peacefully at about 2:45 p.m., Timoney said. 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 police negotiator Serafin Ordonez, who spoke 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 told a reporter for The Miami Herald during the incident that he was "the new director of the newspaper."

"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 said.

The floor was evacuated, and officers carrying weapons and wearing protective gear set up a perimeter around the building, where evacuees gathered.

News staff remained on the fifth floor to cover the story.

Varela landed on Key West during the Mariel boatlift, in which more than 125,000 Cubans fled the island in 1980. In a December 2004 El Nuevo Herald article, he recalled how drawing got him into trouble as a child.

"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.

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 was just indicted by a federal grand jury on fraud charges.

DeFede was fired for recording his telephone conversations with Teele just before the incident without the politician's permission.

News broke in September that eight of El Nuevo Herald's reporters and 29 of its freelancers were paid to work for the U.S. government's Radio and TV Marti networks. The government beams programming into Cuba aimed at undermining the communist Castro government.

The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald are separate newspapers, but they share an office and are both published by The Miami Herald Media Co. El Nuevo Herald is one of the nation's largest Spanish-language newspapers.

Related Article:
But what if it isn't really a gun?
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