Univision News Team Briefly Detained in Venezuela After Infuriating Maduro

February 26, 2019 Updated: February 27, 2019

Venezuela’s illegitimate dictator Nicolás Maduro abruptly cut short an interview with Univision News after a journalist showed him footage of the nation’s youth eating food from a garbage truck—infuriating Maduro who “just couldn’t stand it.”

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos explained in detail the brief detainment he experienced in video footage posted on the network’s website on Feb. 26. He said Maduro’s personnel took him and producer Maria Guzman into a security room and asked for their cellphones—which Ramos said he didn’t want to hand over.

“So they turned off the light of the room and a group of agents came in,” Ramos said. “They took forcefully my backpack, my cellphone, they did the same thing with Maria’s, and they forced us to give them our passcodes for the cellphones. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us.”

Ramos then recalled the moment when Maduro stopped the interview from continuing and detained his team inside Venezuela’s Presidential Palace. He added that his camera equipment and footage was confiscated and never returned.

Illegitimate Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro speaks during a pro-government march in Caracas, on Feb. 23, 2019. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

“He tried to close my iPad where I showed him the video and then he said the interview was over,” he said. “I think we’ll never have that interview again. They don’t want the world to see what we do.”

Ramos was the head of a team consisting of six journalists from Univision, an American Spanish-language free-to-air television network. The incident ignited international concern on Feb. 25 following a post from Univision. Just before his phone was taken, Ramos was able to alert his bosses, who then notified the U.S. State Department of the situation.

Assistant Secretary of State Kimberly Breier demanded the team’s immediate release, adding that the “world is watching.” Hours later on the same day, Ramos and his team were released.

A video posted a day later on Feb. 26 shows the Univision team leaving the hotel in Caracas en route to the airport as they were accompanied by U.S. and Mexican embassy personnel.

“They are taking us in bulletproof vehicles for our own security,” Univision National News Correspondent, Pedro Ultreras, said on Twitter.

Ramos told reporters that Maduro had deported them from the country with no reason provided, aside from notifying them that they had been “expelled.”

Univision also publicly posted the video which prompted the abrupt reaction from Maduro. The roughly two-minute long clip shows a group of Venezuelan youth and adults rummaging through the back of a garbage truck and eating the leftover scraps—a signal of just how widespread food shortages are in Venezuela.

Almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s population live below the poverty line and more than half of families are unable to meet their basic food needs, according to Mercy Corps, a humanitarian group. The U.N. estimates that by the end of 2019, 5.3 million refugees and migrants will have fled the socialist regime in Venezuela.

“These are the images … that caused Maduro to walk out of the interview, order the Univision team detained and their work confiscated. This is what Maduro does not want the world to see,” Univision said.

Authoritarian Rule

Maduro’s regime has a history of arrests and violence against the free press, stemming from a 2010 law that provides for sanctions in the case of any content “calling the legitimately constituted authority into question.”

Venezuela is ranked 143 out of 180 countries in last year’s World Press Freedom Index, which is calculated according to the level of freedom available to journalists. The ranking is used by diplomats and international entities such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

Foreign journalists are often expelled in Venezuela, with arrests and violence by Venezuela’s police and intelligence services against reporters reaching a record level in 2017, the site said.

An annual report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that in 2018, Venezuela jailed the most journalists in the Americas, with three in prison as of Dec. 1.

Freedom House, another organization dedicated to reporting media independence and press freedom ranked Venezuela 81 out of 100—with 100 being the least free. Their 2017 score—the latest from their site—labelled the press freedom of Venezuela as “not free.”

The site said some journalists faced “politically motivated prosecutions and spurious charges” such as those of David Natera Febres, who was convicted of criminal defamation in March 2016 and Braulio Jatar Alonso, who was arrested in September 2018 and charged with money laundering.

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