"You're talking with the new editor of the newspaper," said Cuban exile and freelance cartoonist Jose Varela as he holed up in the El Nuevo Herald newsroom with a machine gun, "and I am here to uncover the true conflicts of the newspaper. Here they ridicule the exiles, there are problems with pay."
Varela, whose father was reportedly a political prisoner in Castro's Cuba, wreaked havoc at One Herald Plaza before surrendering to police today, which was clearly what he had in mind, however twisted that mind may have been by then. His "machine gun" was a toy model.
He is a cartoonist, after all.
But this was no joke. Varela, who writes in his autobio of his wife and two children (and his hatred of Fidel), also had a hunting knife that could have
done some human damage. It sounds like he cracked up from a combination of both personal frustrations (recent divorce, move, low pay) and the larger issue of of the Marti madness that apparently will never end. A telling demand of Varela's: The resignations of Humberto Castello and Tom Fiedler. Here's an interesting passage from the the Herald's main story authored by David Ovalle and Martin Merzer:
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 Mart�, 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 Mart�.
Garcia quoted Varela as asking, ''How is it Cubans must suffer all the time?''
I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know one thing: The Herald -- both of them -- are being torn to pieces right now and I don't think anyone has a clue how to stop this meltdown. It's like a sore that not only won't heal but keeps getting bigger and rawer. And the traumatic incidents -- not just today's, but also Art Teele's violent death in the Herald lobby last year -- makes it unlike any other newspaper problem in the country.
I've come down on Fiedler before, even said at one point that I think he should resign, but I don't envy him right now. He's got the toughest job in journalism and, no matter what you may think of some of his decisions, I think he's earned respect (hell, he's always been a damn good newsman, which makes this whole thing that much more sad). The Herald building right now is like the film-version of Chinatown at this point -- every decently intended act only seems to make matters worse (the Clark Hoyt report is an excellent example of that). It just keeps boiling over like a shrimp pot. At Babalu, a commenter wrote this today:
"Warning: The Attorney General Has Determined that working at the Miami Herald Is Dangerous to Your Health.
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It's unfortunate that Jose Varela did not seize the racist Tom Fiedler. Had he done so, Cuban exiles would have erected a monument to Varela at the Cuban Memorial Plaza."
Val Prieto, who runs Babalu, had the sense to excise that last line. It could only incite the largely right-wing Cuban readership of that blog. I include it here because I think it shows the visceral, borderline-insane hatred brewing in Miami right now. The entire community needs to do something before there's another day like today, only instead of a half-baked cartoonist, it's someone truly intent on doing some serious damage.
I can't believe I'm even saying this, but I'm starting to think there needs to be some kind of town hall meeting with Fiedler, other newspaper editors and reporters, Cuban exile leaders, and anybody else interested in these issues. Stick Michael Putney in there to moderate. Start it at 7:30 and let it last until the wee hours if it has to.
This damn town needs some therapy. And quick.