(NEW YORK) — In a rare interview, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sat down with ABC News’ Barbara Walters in 2007 to discuss his ire for President George W. Bush, his reputation and his lonely personal life.
The interview was the first time any American journalist interviewed Chavez since he called President Bush “the devil” in a 2006 speech before the U.N. General Assembly.
“He himself is very welcoming. He had just called George Bush the devil, which he repeated,” Walters recalled on Tuesday, shortly after the news of Chavez’s death was announced. “Mostly, it was very hard to feel that this man who was so welcoming and warm and friendly was also the man who had just called the president of the United States the devil. He also reminded us of how much oil Venezuela was supplying to the United States and there was an implied threat that this could stop.”
The controversial leader also revealed glimpses of a more vulnerable side.
“[He] talked about how alone his life was, that he had no relationships and so forth because his whole life was his work and trying to help his country and everything that he had done,” she said. “But there was such a divide then in the country and so much danger, just walking the streets.”
Walters said the trip was one of the few where she had to have bodyguards because the network felt the conditions in Caracas, Venezuela, were too dangerous.
“The people who had money, who had property, were living behind great fences and gates,” she said. “The poor people were happy because he was able to deliver to them running water and toilets.”
“He is far more charming when you meet him than when you hear him talking,” Walters said. “He had a radio show that was on every night, in which he was very bombastic, but he also told jokes. His closest friend was Fidel Castro, whom he talked back and forth with on the radio. They were great buddies.”
When Walters asked Chavez about the name-calling, he did not back down.
“Yes, I call him a devil in the United Nations,” he said. “That’s true. Another time, I said that he was a donkey just because I think that he is very ignorant … about the things that are actually happening in Latin America and the world.”
“I don’t think he was worried about how he was perceived in this country,” Walters said. “There was a swagger about him in and a bravado about him at the same time.”
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