Univision anchor arrested in Venezuela saw 'emboldened' Maduro

Univision anchor arrested in Venezuela saw 'emboldened' Maduro
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Univision anchor Jorge Ramos said Wednesday he saw an "emboldened" Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during the 17-minute interview that led to Ramos's own arrest and deportation from the South American country.

Ramos said Maduro relished the back-and-forth dialogue, which touched on the lack of democracy in Venezuela, human rights abuses, political prisoners, elections and the the humanitarian crisis racking the country.

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"As a matter of fact, Maduro told me he wanted to talk to me because he wanted to debate with me. He personally told me that during the interview," said Ramos.

"We debated about everything. I will say it was a strong interview, you might describe it even as a contentious interview, and I'm fine with that, it's not the first time I've done something like that," he added.

But when Ramos produced a video he'd shot on the streets of Caracas a day prior, Maduro's mood changed.

"Two things happened," said Ramos. "First with his hand, kind of comically and stupidly, he tried to cover the images, the video on my iPad. He couldn't, and then he said the interview is over. He turned his back on me. We did not shake hands again and then he left."

Ramos and his producer were then detained for two hours, and their professional equipment, cellphones and backpacks were confiscated by Venezuelan authorities.

The video Ramos showed Maduro features two young men rummaging for food in the back of a garbage truck and criticizing the government.

Ramos said he used the video as a counterpoint to Maduro's claims of government success in education and health care.

"The video is about two minutes long, he didn't wait for the two minutes, he stood up and said 'se terminó la entrevista,' the interview is over," said Ramos.

But Maduro's demeanor before the video showed a leader who feels momentum on his side, according to Ramos.

"Maduro feels emboldened right now after what happened during the weekend. He interprets what happened as a victory," said Ramos.

"That's part of the reason why he felt strong enough to give an interview to ABC News and to Univision. Otherwise, why would he do something like that?" he added.

Over the weekend, Venezuela's opposition leaders tried to receive and introduce to the country shipments of international aid parked at border crossings with Brazil and Colombia.

Maduro-allied paramilitary groups called "colectivos" fired on civilians, killing at least two, and were successful in stopping most of the aid from entering the country.

At the helm of the aid operation was opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who as head of the National Assembly was sworn in as interim president of Venezuela in a bid to unseat Maduro through constitutional means.

Guaidó's claim on the presidency saw strong initial momentum, as the United States, its regional allies through a coalition known as the Lima Group, the Organization of American States and several key European countries granted him recognition and tightened the screws on Maduro.

But a month after Guaidó's inauguration in a public square in Caracas, Maduro remains firmly in control of Venezuela.

"There's a perception within the regime that they were underestimated by the United States and by the Grupo de Lima and by the international community," said Ramos.

"These two perceptions, that first they had a victory during the weekend — the first victory in weeks, by the way, because before that Guaidó was winning one week after the other — and the fact that nobody knows what's coming next, they are feeling fortified, there's no question about it," he added.

Still, Ramos saw poverty more dire and extensive in Venezuela than he's seen elsewhere in Latin America, and an opposition coalescing around Guaidó, "a new leader with imagination."

That — together with broad international opposition to Maduro, a legal case for Guaidó's presidency and broad domestic opposition — means Maduro is facing a more credible run on his power than ever before.

But that doesn't guarantee Venezuelan regime change, a major foreign policy goal of the Trump administration, said Ramos.

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure if we can go from that to the end of the regime," he said.