Journalist Jorge Ramos and his Univision team were detained at Nicolás Maduro’s presidential palace in the Venezuelan capital Monday, reportedly because Maduro didn’t like the questions the reporters were asking him during an interview.
The group was freed shortly after, said Daniel Coronell, Univision’s president for news in the United States. Coronell said Venezuelan government officials confiscated the journalists’ equipment.
Ramos, in a phone interview with Univision after he was released, said the interview with Maduro lasted about 17 minutes.
“He didn’t like the things we were asking him about the lack of democracy in Venezuela, about torture, political prisoners, the humanitarian crisis that they were living,” he said.
But the breaking point came, Ramos said, after he showed Maduro a video of people eating from a garbage truck.
“Immediately after, one of his ministers, Jorge Rodríguez, came to tell us that the interview was not authorized,” Ramos said.
All their equipment was confiscated, including their cameras and cellphones, Ramos added. He said he was then using a phone that was not his. He and his team were questioned for more than two hours, he said.
Ramos said the interview they recorded was also taken. ”The interview, they have it,” he said.
Another Univision reporter, Enrique Acevedo, later tweeted out the video he said Ramos showed Maduro.
“These are the images that Jorge Ramos showed to Nicolás Maduro and provoked him to get up from the interview,” Acevedo wrote in Spanish. “This is what Maduro doesn’t want the world to see.”
On Monday evening, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it had protested Ramos’s detainment with the Venezuelan government, and requested that confiscated equipment be returned to Univision.
“Our country calls for respect for freedom of expression,” the statement said.
Kimberly Breier, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the region, said on Twitter that the State Department had received word that Maduro was holding Ramos and his team against their will.
“We insist on their immediate release; the world is watching,” she said.
An hour after Breier’s announcement, the Univision News Twitter account posted a picture of Ramos, after his release, on the phone at his hotel.
“Happy to report @jorgeramosnews and the @Univision team have been released,” the post read.
But Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez criticized the group from Univision, writing in a tweet that hundreds of journalists who have visited the presidential palace were treated well.
“We do not offer ourselves to cheap shows,” he said.
In another tweet, Rodríguez seemed to accuse the State Department of ginning up controversy.
Responding to Rodríguez, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) compared the Venezuelan official to “Baghdad Bob,” the spokesman for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The response from other U.S. politicians, many of whom have been fiercely critical of Maduro’s government and supportive of his challenger, Juan Guaidó, was swift.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said that Maduro “is losing his grip. Detaining reporters is unacceptable. He should think carefully about his next steps and release them now!”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called Ramos “a living legend, truth-teller and democracy fighter” and said his detention was “DESPICABLE and will not stand.”
While the administration voiced its support for Ramos in the tangle with Maduro, the Univision anchor has sparred with Trump in the past.
On Tuesday, Univision correspondent Pedro Ultreras tweeted that U.S. and Mexico embassy officials accompanied the journalists to the airport in “bullet proof vehicles for our own security.” Ultreras added that the group was followed and filmed by what he called Venezuelan intelligence agents, and that Univision’s equipment had not been returned.
Maite Fernández contributed to this report.