Nicaraguan Ana Real paid for three dinners in Manhattan in order to obtain the interview that television anchor Dan Rather held with then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Although she’d been promised an interview while in Cuba, that promise wasn’t enough to convince this television producer, who would have to transfer the crew and equipment from the United States to Iraq. In the end, though, despite the fact that television channels all over the world were fighting to get an interview, she was the only one to achieve this for CBS.
Ana was 60 years old when she died last March 27. She had been with CBS since 2001, most currently as the foreign news producer for CBS News. She was always true to her convictions and, as her husband Miguel Real recalls: “She did things because she wanted to do them; she didn’t need anyone’s approval.” He adds that things in the US culture don’t usually work like that, but “it worked for her”.
Interviewing Hussein was a main aspiration for all of the most powerful television channels in the world during 2003. Ana Real glimpsed the possibility of landing such an interview when she travelled to Cuba with her CBS News team to interview Fidel Castro. On that occasion, the Cuban regime disappointed her seconds before the interview, after having promised them an exclusive. She was furious, and yelled at them – “Hypocrites! You’re all full of crap.” Everyone there was horrified, until Castro’s lawyer approached her.
“Ana, take it easy. If I could give you something, what would you ask for?” he asked her.
“If I could ask you for anything, I’d like an interview with Saddam Hussein,” she responded.
When Ana Real returned from Cuba, she pitched the idea of the interview with Hussein to CBS News, but no one believed it would be possible. There was about a one percent chance of obtaining what many considered impossible, but she was convinced that they had nothing to lose, and if they did get the interview, they had a lot to gain.
Ana had a broad network of contacts around the world, which she had gathered through the work she did. Those contacts and her skill at “asking and landing things” were the levers she used in a Manhattan restaurant to “obtain…the interview with Saddam Hussein, at a time when there were thousands of international media outlets seeking such an interview,” explains Miguel.
He also attributes to her the incomparable coverage CBS provided on the arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Mexican cartel. She also produced in-depth stories about the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, and about the questionable practices of the international adoption agencies, reports that won her two Emmy’s.
Ana Real’s first steps
Before her successful career as a television producer in the U.S., Ana Real and her husband Miguel spent time in a number of countries in Latin America, covering stories and reporting on major events for international agencies. They informed about wars, natural disasters, and on two occasions they had to flee authoritarian regimes who were unhappy with the investigative work that Miguel did.
Ana began in the world pf journalism without having planned to do so. In 1984, as a recent graduate in Hotel Administration her vision was aimed more at working in tourism and the service industry.
She returned to Nicaragua after studying in the United States and found work at the Intercontinental Hotel, the largest and most prestigious of the era. However, the war brought the arrival of dozens of journalists and international agencies, who installed themselves in the Managua hotel. This tied her to the call to tell the stories, and she never looked back.
“I helped them with contacts and logistics. Suddenly, I found myself involved more with journalism than with the hotel business, and I began as a “freelance producer”, Ana recalled during a 2015 interview with Confidencial.
Among the reporters that were covering the war in Nicaragua was Mexican Miguel Real. He and Ana met in a bar that was right next door to the hotel where she was working. They became good friends, and he invited her to Guatemala. She had been planning to get married, but Miguel persuaded her to accompany him for a week. While they were in Guatemala, Miguel was dispatched to Mexico to cover the 1985 earthquake there. Ana went with him. “That’s when she really began her career, when she discovered a taste for journalism,” Miguel recalls.
Ana’s wedding was cancelled, and she began her relationship with Miguel. “We went to live in El Salvador,” recounts her widower. At the end of the decade of the 80s, Ana was working as a freelancer for the international news channels that came to cover the war in El Salvador.
She later traveled to Venezuela, Columbia, all over Central America, and the Caribbean, among other countries. During the nineties, the family settled in Peru, but they were later expelled by the regime of Alberto Fujimori due to Miguel’s investigative work.
After their abrupt departure from Peru, Ana, together with her spouse and children, moved to the United States. There she worked first for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Later, in 2001, she joined CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.
She was passionate about her work. She would answer the telephone 24 hours a day, even though this habit caused some marital discussions. For her, the production was “the heart of the story,” as she told Confidencial magazine in 2015.
She touched the life of many people
Ana’s passion for journalism went beyond her work. She became a mentor for many people; she led teams of reporters all over the world; and she was president of the local chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in New York City, advising young journalism students.
“She helped them present themselves, not to diminish themselves in front of the US industry people. She’d tell them that they had to be themselves, that we have worth as Latinos,” Miguel remembers.
In a posthumous homage held at the beginning of September, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists hung the name of Ana Real in the Hispanic Journalists’ Hall of Fame, a distinction that has also been received by journalists such as Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, and Maria Elena Salinas.
In the same event, Ingrid Ciprian-Mathews, executive vice president of professional strategic development for CBS News, emphasized: “Undoubtedly, Ana was special. She had distinctive qualities that made her unforgettable to her many friends, colleagues, apprentices, and acquaintances all over the world.”
“Through her charm, curiosity and ingenuity, she always got the story. And through her disarming sense of identification with other people, she faced up to all the challenges, because her objective was the story. This scholarship will continue her legacy and inspire the next generation of journalists,” Ciprian-Matthews continued.
Alberto B. Mendoza, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists emphasized: “Ana was an incredibly talented journalist who always saw the best in the students and really believed in them and in their success within the field. Those who had the opportunity to know her were anxious to learn from her, and the students who receive this scholarship will have the honor of following in the steps of one of the most influential leaders of journalism.”
Another way of honoring Ana Real’s legacy was by creating a scholarship fund for journalism students in the United States. The first two scholarships will be awarded starting in 2020, and the winners will receive $5,000 to be used for tuition, lodging, food and books.
Nicaraguan journalist Tifani Roberts feels that Ana “reached the top”. She never went on the air herself, but, as Roberts noted: “she had a lot of influence behind the scenes: What would be covered? How would it be covered?”
During the outbreak of the civic rebellion in Nicaragua, “Ana Clemencia pushed and pushed. CBS became the only one of the US broadcast networks to send their foreign news teams to Nicaragua to cover the crisis. That was thanks to her,” Roberts states.
She adds that the last time she saw Ana, she was there with her team from CBS News conducting interviews outside of El Chipote, an infamous jail in Nicaragua, where many of the protesters were held and tortured.
Her husband, Miguel Real, also believes that “Ana’s frustrated dream” was to see the fall of Daniel Ortega’s regime, but she didn’t live long enough.
Unique, determined, proactive, generous
Long before becoming a successful news producer, traveling the world and molding dozens of journalists, Ana Clemencia Padilla (her maiden name) was a young girl from the middle classes who enjoyed interacting with the tourists that passed through the port town of Corinito, the most important port in Nicaragua during the era of cotton growing. That’s where she spent her early years, due to the work of her father, Jose Padilla Ramirez, who was at that time a well-known physician.
Born in Managua on September 24, 1958, she was the youngest of four children from the marriage of Dr. Jose Padilla and Rafaela Lopez de Padilla. Sometime later, the family moved to Corinto. She had a happy childhood, and “was a generous person,” recalls her sister Patricia Padilla.
Ana Patricia’s voice breaks when she remembers Ana. She pauses and later says: “[She was] my soul sister. We were best friends, we loved each other so much, we were close.”
When Ana and her brothers and sisters were teenagers, the family returned to Managua. She was about to graduate from high school when her school collapsed during the earthquake that destroyed Managua in 1972. She finished high school in an improvised classroom.
In the mid-seventies, the revolutionary movement against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza gained strength, and Ana’s parents decided to send her to the United States to avoid her getting involved. In that country she lived with different families, learned English, and later was able to study tourism.
While Ana and Miguel were traveling the world and reporting on the most important events, they also had two children, Ana Carolina and Miguel. “We were a different kind of parents,” Miguel recalls, explaining that his children grew up amid wars and natural disasters, until the family finally decided to put down roots in the United States.
Optimistic until the end
On March 27, 2019, five months after she was diagnosed with leukemia, Ana Real passed away. She was 60. The illness surprised her during a vacation trip to Mexico, but she was convinced that she’d beat the cancer. However, her body couldn’t resist the bone marrow transplant, and she died from multiple organ failure.
Ana’s leukemia was “a scientific case study,” Miguel explains. Her type of leukemia is little known since her bone marrow was apparently clear of cancerous cells, but in some way or another they were producing the disease. That’s why she decided to submit to a bone marrow transplant that her body in the end couldn’t hold up under.
“Really, until minutes before her death, we were certain that everything was going to come out well,” recounts Miguel. The strength that Ana transmitted to her loved ones made them think that everything would be alright.
Her sister Patricia says: “Ana was so generous that she never told us the seriousness of her illness, although she knew it. She was battling, but I think that she didn’t want to have her loved ones close to her, because we would be suffering.”
Ana Real wasn’t very religious, but she was very spiritual. She lived her life to the limit and served others, determined as only she could be. Only the disease could put an end to the life of one of the most outstanding Nicaraguan journalists in the international media.