Cuban-American TV journalist María Elvira Salazar says she has no regrets about an interview she conducted with the late Cuban ruler Fidel Castro 23 years ago, which is now being used as a weapon by one of her opponents in the race for a seat in Congress.
“Some may interpret the footage as if I was ingratiating myself [with Castro], but the snippet is manipulated, perverse and poisonous and not trying to illustrate the truth,” Salazar said.
The video is part of a political ad airing on local television and paid for by an opponent also running to fill the seat to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. It includes grainy snippets of Salazar referring to Castro as “comandante” and “un revolucionario por excelencia” alongside an English-language appearance on Fox News following Castro’s death in 2016 in which Salazar referred to Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba as “noble.”
The ad has generated controversy and prompted Salazar to defend herself against criticism for what some consider a complacent attitude toward Castro and U.S.-Cuba relations.
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The ad, which Salazar described as defamatory and tried to remove from the air, is financed by Stephen Marks, also a Republican candidate for District 27, home to some 280,000 Cuban-American voters.
The interview with Castro took place in 1995, during his visit to New York to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the United Nations. Roberto Robaina, Cuba’s foreign minister at the time, interceded to get Castro to consent to an exclusive on-camera interview with Salazar, who had been trying to get to the Cuban strongman for several years.
“Robaina told me that the only thing he could do for me was to invite me to a reception where Castro would be. I talked to him and he accepted my request for an interview,“ Salazar said.
She added that she considers the interview as “one of the greatest achievements,” alongside other interviews she obtained throughout her professional career with high-profile figures, such Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 2003. Salazar also moderated a historic debate in 1996 between the late anti-Castro exile leader Jorge Mas Canosa and Ricardo Alarcón, former president of Cuba’s National Assembly.
In the interview with Castro, Salazar said she chose to refer to him as “comandante” to avoid calling him president and that the phrase “un revolucionario por excelencia” (a revolutionary for excellence) was a way to set up a question that followed but does not appear in the ad.
The interview lasted an hour and included “very tough” questions, Salazar said. Those questions, she said, included important issues for Cubans. Among them: difficulties islanders were experiencing during the so-called “Special Period” following the loss of subsidies from the former Soviet Union; the call for elections in Cuba; and criticism over providing a safe haven for American fugitives.
Salazar said that those who think she was too complacent with Castro should review the programs she hosted for 15 years on Miami television.
“People know that I have been one of the biggest critics of Castroism in this city,” she said. “That’s why the regime detests me and that’s why they have not allowed me to enter the island to do any reporting.”
Follow Sarah Moreno on Twitter: @SarahMorenoENH.