Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Univision news since 1986, and he also hosts Al Punto, a weekly public affairs program. He has won 10 Emmy Awards and received the Walter Cronkite Award for excellence in political journalism.
On Feb. 25, 2019, Ramos, along with his Univision team, conducted an interview with Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. Maduro abruptly ended the interview after only 17 minutes, then confiscated the recording equipment, detained the journalists, and deported them.
Ramos wrote about the incident in 17 Minutos: Entrevista con el dictador (17 Minutes: An Interview with the Dictator), published May 25 by Vintage Español. He is donating all of his proceeds from the book to Venezuelan refugees through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. PW caught up with him at his home in Miami.
What markets is 17 Minutos available in?
The U.S. for now, but soon in Mexico, and eventually in Colombia and Spain. We want to make sure it can be read by most of the people in the Venezuelan diaspora. But I am certain it will soon make its way to Venezuela, and a certain person will be able to read it.
How were you able to recover the interview?
The interview that aired in the U.S. and on social media is not the interview my team filmed with Univision’s cameras. It is the version the government taped at the same time we were taping ours. After the interview, they confiscated our cameras and video cards, which they most likely destroyed. However, the interview they taped, and probably thought they had destroyed, was eventually given to us by three Venezuelan men who work very closely with the Venezuelan government. It’s an erased interview that someone rescued from a laptop.
Had it been edited?
No, it was the full interview. There was treason within the palace. At least three people were upset enough by what they watched that they made sure we got the interview back.
After you and your team were detained, did you ever feel that your lives were in danger?
I have had bad interviews where presidents like Evo Morales of Bolivia got up and left after only six minutes, and when Donald Trump was a candidate the first time, he used a bodyguard to eject me from a press conference—so those things have happened. But this is the first time someone stole the cameras and the video cards. I personally never felt that my life was in danger, but we could have been arrested. We were detained for almost 24 hours. My backpack, cell phone, laptop—everything was confiscated. We were sent to our hotel and could not leave until the next day. At midnight, a government functionary came to our hotel with a deportation order.
During the interview, Nicolás Maduro told me that if I were Venezuelan, I would have to face Venezuelan justice because of my questions about him having assassinated many protesters, and because of my accusation that he has hundreds of political prisoners. We could have been arrested and placed in jail, but thanks to the help of the American and Mexican embassies—and thanks to the Twitter storm that we created, I think—we were let go. But the big risk for me and for the other six people was that we would be in jail for a long time.
During the interview, Maduro kept calling you a “professional provocateur.” Was that your intention?
The intention was to demonstrate that he is a dictator. His intention was to demonstrate that he is not a dictator. Because of his actions, the conclusion is that he acted as a dictator. My mistake was to think that because I am a foreigner, he would not behave like a dictator. But he did.
Keep in mind that this was early in 2019, when 60 countries recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela and not Maduro. Donald Trump lied to the Venezuelan people by saying that “all [America’s] cards were on the table,” giving the impression that a military intervention by the U.S. was a possibility.
Maduro thought he could send a message to Trump, but my intention was completely different. I have been saying for decades that, as journalists, we have a social responsibility to question and to challenge those who are in power. Knowing that I had the opportunity to talk to a dictator, I was going to do exactly that.