My Conversation With Hugo Chavez

It was September of 2009, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

That day I interviewed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, in the morning. In the early afternoon, I interviewed Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, and in the evening I interviewed Muammar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya.

It was a strange kind of day, a hectic day with three world leaders, all of whom were regarded as despots. I was surprised when I met Chavez. He was engaging. When he walked into the room, he was laughing and singing. He spoke English and we talked baseball for a few minutes. For someone who didn't like the American leadership or our country, he certainly followed American baseball and knew everything about it. For about five or ten minutes we chatted, while the crew finished setting up for the interview.

We covered a myriad of subjects in an hour-long interview, which covered topics from Israel to Colombia and his friendship with Iran and Cuba. He claimed George Bush tried to assassinate him. He had mixed opinions on President Obama and he said he didn't like Hillary Clinton. Unlike other extremist leaders in the world, he said he was a true, observant Catholic and believed in Christ.

I found him conflicting. In a strange way, he was extraordinarily easy to like, but of course many people -- both good and bad -- who rise to prominence can be that way. Chavez was larger than life. He was very engaging.

Had he been an American politician, Democrat or Republican, he probably would have been very successful.

The hour went very quickly. It was easily done despite the need for an interpreter. It was a simultaneous interpretation. I didn't have to wait for the answer to be complete before the interpreter continued.

I would have to say that I strongly disagreed with him and I didn't like a lot of what he did to his people. But at the same time, I know he helped a lot of people in the United States -- especially during oil shortages in the Northeast, when he supplied a lot of oil to our country.

He was complicated individual. That day, I found it frustrating to interview Ahmadinejad. Gaddafi was also very frustrating. But oddly, Chavez was never frustrating. He was more responsive during the interview than they were.

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