Walters: “He likes the U.S. It’s George Bush that he doesn’t like”

The Barbara Walters interview with President Chavez was also featured on Nightline, in which Walters says that he was not as she expected. Instead, he was "dignified," "warm," and "friendly."

ABC News’ Barbara Walters, to prepare for an interview with Chavez, visits Santa Criz del Este, a famous barrio in Caracas. Jose Gregorio Cedeno, in the red cap, is president of the community council. Doris Seren, in blue, is a teacher and member of the council.
Credit: Donna Svennevik/ABC

ABC News Transcript
March 16, 2007 Friday
Show: Nightline 11:45 Pm EST
Anchor: Martin Bashir
Reporter: Barbara Walters

Martin Bashir: President Bush has just returned from a tour of Latin America but one country he did not visit is Venezuela and its controversial President Hugo Chavez. But that’s exactly where my colleague Barbara Walters has just been and she’s come back with a rare and exclusive interview with the outspoken leader. Barbara, good evening.

Barbara Walters: Martin, thank you. Well, Hugo Chavez may be the one world leader with absolutely no fear about provoking the United States. As President Bush toured Latin America, President Chavez was close behind him, with a continental tour of his own, stoking the fires with fierce criticism of the bush administration and its policies every step of the way. But how does he get away with it? I spoke to him Wednesday in the presidential palace in Caracas.

Barbara Walters: This is Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is so beloved by some of his supporters that they hang pictures of him in their living rooms in the poor barrios that ring the city. He talks to them almost every night on a regular TV and radio show. It’s called “Alo Presidente.” “Hello President” starring him, usually only him. For at least two hours at a time, occasionally he takes callers. Like Fidel Castro. He calls Castro his political father.

Clip from “Alo Presidente”

Barbara Walters: He often uses his show and his frequent speeches to poke fun at American leaders. This week alone, as President Bush crossed South America, Chavez called him among other names a corpse and cosmic dust. But president Bush isn’t the only one Chavez attacks.

Barbara Walters: While we are talking about name-calling, you have called our secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, illiterate. You said that she suffers from sexual frustration. You are a gentleman. What does it do to say such insulting things especially about a woman?

President Hugo Chavez: Well, that’s not exactly what I said. They hung on one word. I would never say or tell a lady in this planet that she has a sexual problem. On the contrary, I have told jokes in relation to her. I once said that maybe she was dreaming of me because she kept on mentioning me all of the time in the Congress of the United States. In Europe, she kept on speak against Chavez, Chavez, Chavez and I said, well, I have to answer in some way. Well, I would like to talk to her but they don’t dare talk us to. As a lady, I respect her. For the President of the United States, as a human being, I respect him but they are killing people. They are bombing entire cities in Afghanistan, in Iraq and they do harm, not only to the rest of the world, but to the United States.

Barbara Walters: For all his rhetoric, we couldn’t help but notice Chavez seems to have softened on at least one point. For the last two years, he’s been insisting he’s readying for an invasion from the US. He doesn’t seem as sure now.

Barbara Walters: Let me clear this up. Do you think the United States has plans to invade your country? And if so, are you arming your people?

President Hugo Chavez: First of all, we expect this not to happen. We would have to go to the mountains and fight from the mountains. As Fidel said, if this happens, a 100-year war would begin. However, we don’t want this to happen. We will do anything possible to prevent this from happening but we need to get ready. There is a saying that reads “If you want peace, just get ready for war.”

Barbara Walters: And Martin, let’s remember, Venezuela is one of the top five sources of oil for the US, which may explain why he feels he can say what he likes.

Martin Bashir: Barbara, this was a rare interview with a man who tends to make some fairly outrageous comments but in your interview he sounded vulnerable, maybe fearful of a possible assassination attempt?

Barbara Walters: Well, he is fearful. He survived a coup five years ago and he says that George Bush was behind it. He is convinced that the CIA does want to assassinate him and he says that if he is killed, the responsibility will be on George Bush. So yeah, he does feel that.

Martin Bashir: You’ve met him in person, you interviewed him, you spent time for him, for all the kind of brash things that he’s actually said, how did you find him as an individual, as a man?

Barbara Walters: Well, he was not what I expected. He was very dignified. He was warm, friendly. He likes the US. It’s George Bush that he doesn’t like. He also was very personal. He talked about how hard his life was, that he wished he could be in love but you can’t be when you are heading a country. And he’s had to abandon seeing his children. I mean, it was a side of him that, although he’s still very tough and he’s very angry, this is a man who has some sentiment and he is not crazy as some people seem to think. Not at all.

Martin Bashir: Barbara Walters, thank you.