Univison anchor, Jorge Ramos, and his team arrived in Caracas on Saturday for an interview with Nicolás Maduro which was coordinated with his communications minister, Jorge Rodríguez, including the issuing of journalist visas so they could enter Venezuela.
The interview began three hours later than planned. "I had been thinking, so how should I start the interview and should I ask him when are you going to leave," Ramos told colleagues after returning to the Univision newsroom on Tuesday. "We thought, no, the whole interview has to be a fight between us saying that he's a dictator and him saying that he's the legitimate president. And the whole interview was planned just like that," he says.
Ramos never directly accused Maduro of being a dictator, as Venezuelan government officials have alleged. Instead, Ramos says he stuck to the ethical code of professional journalists and told Maduro that many Venezuelans consider him to be a dictator," since millions of Venezuelans do not consider him the legitimate president of Venezuela."
Ramos began by asking Maduro: "'How should I address you? Should I call you a legitimate president or should I call you a dictator?'" He mentioned that Juan Guaidó, the interim president of Venezuela, considers him a "usurper".
Ramos could tell immediately that Maduro "felt really uncomfortable, with me in the presidential palace calling him a dictator."
He says he was also looking to establish a rythm during the interview. "I needed to make sure that he wasn't going to give me these long answers, that it was going to be a back and forth. And I think it worked like that," he says.
He went on to ask Maduro about the accusations of his former intelligence chief, retired General Hugo Carvajal, that he was responsible for "hundreds of deaths", according to an interview in the New York Times. He says he also questioned Maduro about reports by human rights groups of more than 900 political prisoners and of cases of abuse and torture reported by Human Rights Watch.
"And then I showed him a video, which I recorded on my cell phone, of some young men scavenging for food from the back of a garbage truck," says Ramos.
This proved to be the final straw for Maduro. He got up, tried to cover the images on my iPad and left. Before he left, Ramos says he told him: "that's what dictators do, not democrats."
One of my best interviews
When it was terminated they were about 17 minutes into the interview, Ramos calculates. "At the end ... he (Maduro) was exhausted, but I think that was exactly what we needed to do. I'm really surprised that this is one of my best interviews that no-one will ever see," he says with a chuckle.
Shortly after Maduro walked out the communications minister arrived and said that the interview was not authorized. The team's four cameras were confiscated and all the equipment. They were also asked tio surrender their cell phones which Ramos refused to do. They ended up being detained at the Miraflores Palace for more than two hours.
Before leaving the palace, Ramos was put in a security room together with producer María Guzmán. There they asked again for their cell phones. "When we refused, they turned off the light in the room and several agents came in. They grabbed our cell phones, my backpack and they checked our socks," says Ramos.
They were threatened with further detention if they did not give up their passcodes. Ramos refused but did agree to unlock his phone so it could be inspected. "I don't have anything to hide," he said.
The equipment has so far not been returned. An official from the immigration service came to the Caracas hotel where the team was staying and informed them that they would be expelled from the country on Tuesday morning. Ramos' cellphone was later returned but the contents was wiped clean.
"The takeaway from the interview is that the most important responsibility that we have is to question people in power, those who have so much power like Nicolas Maduro. We have to question them in their own place, in their own country. The people there don't get to hear that," Ramos says.
"And right now the situation In Venezuela is terrible. What happened to us foreign correspondents, just imagine what's happening with independent journalists in Venezuela. So my takeaway is that things are not going to be easy," he adds.
Maduro is likely emboldened by last weekend's failure to deliver humanitarian aid that was blocked by police and National Guards at Venezuela's borders.
"They are not giving up and it might take some time and might be a violent transition unfortunately," Ramos concludes.