MIAMI – A 3½-hour standoff at The Miami Herald building ended without violence Friday as police officers arrested a man – dressed in an FBI T-shirt and carrying a weapon that later turned out to be a fake gun – who barricaded himself in the office of the top editor of El Nuevo Herald.

The standoff ended about 2:20 p.m. with the man in custody, police said. No shots were fired, police said.

Employees identified the man as El Nuevo Herald freelance cartoonist Jose Varela.

Though police initially identified the weapon he carried as a MAC 11, a submachine gun, they later said that it was merely a plastic and metal toy gun. He was also armed with a hunting knife with a six-inch blade. Varela was charged with three counts of aggravated assault.

The incident began about 11 a.m., with Varela appearing agitated and demanding to see Humberto Castello, El Nuevo Herald’s executive editor. Castello was not in the building at the time.

Varela’s motives were unclear and, at times, seemed muddled.

But, during the standoff, in interviews with El Nuevo Herald reporter Rui Ferreira, he demanded the resignations of Castello and Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler.

El Nuevo Herald is a Spanish-language newspaper published by The Miami Herald Media Co. Its newsroom is on the sixth floor of the main Herald building in downtown Miami along Biscayne Bay. The Miami Herald’s newsroom is on the fifth floor.

As the incident unfolded, most employees were evacuated from the building and hundreds of Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald employees milled in the newspaper’s parking lot. Many spoke on cellphones, reassuring loved ones that they were all right.

About 12 to 15 people were inside the newsroom at the time, employees said. One of them called the building’s security office.

“I need you upstairs because there’s a fake weapon in Humberto’s office,” a secretary in El Nuevo Herald’s newsroom told Arturo Le Fleur, assistant security manager.

She suggested back-up because “he’s a big guy.”

Le Fleur made it to the sixth floor and saw Varela.

“He was like 30 feet away and he raised up the weapon and said, “Don’t come no farther,”‘ said Le Fleur, a 20-year military veteran.

He said he saw an infrared light on the gun the man carried.

“He had it on me,” Le Fleur said. ‘I told him: “You better put that down.”‘

Castello told police that Varela apparently took over his office and trashed it, including a cartoon of the executive editor that Varela had drawn.

Le Fleur quoted Varela as saying: “I am the publisher until Humberto Castello gets here.”

Most employees were evacuated from the building, though some staffers remained in the Miami Herald’s newsroom to cover the story.

Shortly after the incident began, several people who work on the sixth floor heard police knocking on doors, telling everyone to leave.

“I was in the bathroom,” said Pamela Vinson. “I ran outside and saw that everyone had left. I left my purse, my phone, my keys. I couldn’t even go home if I wanted to.”

People with company identification badges were allowed to return to work about 3 p.m.

During a brief interview with El Nuevo Herald, Varela threatened to commit violence. Some of what he said seemed confusing and disjointed.

“You are speaking with the new director of the newspaper and I’m here to unmask the true conflicts in the newspaper,” Varela said. “They laugh at exiles here. There are problems with payment.”

While barricaded in the office, Varela twice telephoned Miami attorney Joe Garcia. Garcia said that Varela declared his intention to take control of the newspaper.

Garcia said Varela told him in Spanish that, “Now they’re going to have to deal with the truth.”

Garcia also said that Varela told him he had a gun but said that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone else or himself.

When Varela called and said that he would demand that editor Castello be fired and that he was the new editor in charge of the newsroom, Garcia said he thought the cartoonist was joking.

“He’s really a comedian, so I figured he was putting me on,” Garcia said.

The first call was relatively brief, Garcia said. The second lasted more than 15 minutes and Varela sounded distraught about recent events at the newspaper. He said he believed that Cuban exiles were not treated sympathetically.

Many members of South Florida’s Cuban-American community and some staffers of El Nuevo Herald have been angered by recent Miami Herald coverage of Radio and TV Marti, U.S. government broadcasting operations that seek an end to the communist regime of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Some of those stories have focused on payments received by several El Nuevo staffers and freelancers for work they conducted for Radio and TV Marti.

Garcia quoted Varela as asking, “How is it Cubans must suffer all the time?”

In a May 1999 column by then El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Ramon Mestre about the right to bear arms, Varela was mentioned as someone who “in secondary school dreamed of shooting Fidel Castro and his mafia.”

In another column that same year, Mestre mentioned that his father and Varela’s father were both political prisoners in Castro’s Cuba.

Varela launched a satirical magazine called Varela in 1999, El Nuevo Herald reported at the time.

The year before, he told El Nuevo Herald, for an article about happiness, that he was happy.

“Happiness is being alive and seeing the rest of the people who are alive, just like me,” Varela said at the time. “Those of us who are alive have to be happy for nothing more than the fact of being.”

In July 2005, The Miami Herald building was the scene of another highly publicized incident involving a distraught man and a gun.

Arthur Teele Jr., a former Miami city commissioner facing a fraud trial and upset over reports about his personal life that appeared in another publication, shot himself to death in the lobby of the building shared by the newspapers.


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