Venezuela Expels Univision Team
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A team of American journalists is leaving Venezuela after being detained. Jorge Ramos, the prominent TV anchor for the Spanish-language channel Univision, was among those who say they were held and then searched and now expelled. Ramos says he was interviewing President Nicolas Maduro when he was detained.
Maduro is the longtime leader under pressure from the United States. The U.S. recognizes an opposition leader as acting president after a disputed election. But Maduro still has the presidential palace, and that's where Jorge Ramos found him. The journalist came to the phone while awaiting departure from the airport in Caracas to talk about what happened.
Did you go to Venezuela knowing that you had an interview with the president?
JORGE RAMOS: Exactly. We had the interview. Last weekend, we landed in Caracas. The interview was supposed to happen on Monday. We went to Palacio de Miraflores, the presidential palace, the equivalent of the White House in Venezuela, and I sat down three hours later with Nicolas Maduro.
INSKEEP: What was the conversation like?
RAMOS: At the beginning, it was easy, before we started rolling. And then once the interview started, it was - I have to admit that he was a tough interview. I asked him if I should call him president or dictator, because there are millions of Venezuelans who don't consider him the legitimate president. And then we went through all the charges that he's been facing for the last four or five years - fraudulent elections, human rights abuses, political prisoners and then the humanitarian crisis in his own country.
The interview - it was about minute 17 of the interview when I showed him, on my iPad, a video that I had taken the day before of three kids eating from a trash truck. It was a very, very powerful video. And then he just didn't want to see it. He stood up. He said the interview was over. He tried to cover my iPad so the cameras wouldn't see that. And then he said that he was going to go. And at that point, I told him what you are doing, not answering the questions, is what dictators do, not what democrats do.
INSKEEP: Now, we're going to go on to what happened after that interview ended, but first, I want to hear a little bit of your sense of President Maduro. What was the strongest defense you heard from him of his record over the last few years in Venezuela?
RAMOS: He lives in a bubble. He thinks that everything is happening within Palacio de Miraflores, the presidential palace. And he thinks that the revolution, 20 years old, is doing great right now. When it comes to feeding the people, when it comes to educating the people, when it comes to social justice, that reality is completely different.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have left the country in the last few years, according to the United Nations. The inflation is 1 million percent a year - 1 million percent. Although, President Maduro thinks that it's completely different, that the U.S. and its allies, that we are exaggerating what's happening in Venezuela so they can take over the oil industry.
INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand this - it's not that President Maduro blames Venezuela's problems precisely on the United States. You're saying that he doesn't even quite believe those problems are so bad. Is that it?
RAMOS: He thinks that the revolution is doing fine. Remember, everything started in 1999 with Hugo Chavez. He got chosen by Hugo Chavez in 2013, and he thinks that the revolution is doing fine. Although, he says that the failings of the revolution is not his responsibility, it's the responsibility of bloqueo, which is all the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and by the United States, which, by the way, is not true. Because the first sanctions were in 2017, imposed by President Obama, and then just lately, just a few weeks ago, by President Trump.
INSKEEP: Did you perceive any inclination on the part of the president to back down, back away, give up his office or anything else?
RAMOS: Not at all. He's - he feels very powerful at this point. After the weekend, when the economic aid and humanitarian aid couldn't cross the borders from Brazil and Colombia to Venezuela, for them, that was a victory. And in my conversations with some members of the government, I think their perception is that, and they tell you, that they have been underestimated. They think that they'll stay in power, and the only problem for them, the real only problem for them, would be a U.S. invasion.
INSKEEP: So that's what you learned in your 17 minutes of discussion with President Maduro, and then finally the questioning got so unpleasant that he didn't want to continue. What happened to you after that?
RAMOS: What happened is that he didn't want the cameras to see the video that I was showing him of the kids eating at the trash can. And then he left, and his minister, Jorge Rodriguez, the minister of communications, he told us that that interview was not authorized. That's the word he used - no estaba autorizada.
And then he confiscated our four cameras. He took all our equipment. He took the video cards that we used to record the interviews, and then he expelled me from Palacio de Miraflores. And at this point, just a few hours before leaving to the United States, they haven't returned us our cameras or the video cards. And they also confiscated our cell phones.
INSKEEP: Are you voluntarily leaving the country or being expelled from the country?
RAMOS: Even though we were planning to leave today, we were expelled from the country, officially.
INSKEEP: And just to clarify again, you have all been released, but your equipment and the recording of this interview, they have not been released.
RAMOS: Yeah, exactly. So the only thing they returned was my cellphone. The rest, they still kept it.
INSKEEP: What do you make of this experience?
RAMOS: Well, that this is an authoritarian government, that this is a government that feels very powerful, that - just imagine, if they did that to us, international press, just imagine what Venezuelan citizens or Venezuelan journalists have to face every single day - the repression, the censorship, the abuse that they face every single day.
INSKEEP: You should have an opportunity to respond to an accusation that the Venezuelan government is now making against you, saying that you were collaborating in some way with the United States government. Were you in any way collaborating with the United States?
RAMOS: Absolutely not. And if they've done their homework, they can just check the videos and realize that I don't have a very friendly relationship with the president of the United States, with Donald Trump. Absolutely not.
INSKEEP: You've had notable confrontations with President Trump as well, we should remind people.
RAMOS: Exactly. So I've been a journalist with Univision for more than 30 years. I'm an independent journalist. And that's exactly what we did.
INSKEEP: Well, Jorge Ramos, I'm glad to hear that you're safe, and safe travels home.
RAMOS: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Jorge Ramos is a journalist for Univision. When we spoke this morning, he was preparing to depart from Caracas after an abbreviated interview with President Nicolas Maduro.
(SOUNDBITE OF JESSE COOK'S "TAXI BRAZIL")
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