President Bush's Latin American nemesis, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, makes headlines lambasting Bush, criticizing his policies, even calling him Beelzebub at the United Nations. Now, in an exclusive interview on ABC News Now, investigative journalist Olga Wornat reveals surprising details about the private life of the Venezuelan leader -- from his mental heath and his childhood traumas to his spending habits and his love life.
Watch "Exclusiva," ABC News Now's program on Hispanic news and entertainment, for the full report.
Wornat, one of Latin America's best known investigative journalists, talks about the private side of this very outspoken leader in her latest book, "Accursed Chronicles."
As a child, Wornat said, Chavez often took refuge with his grandmother, fleeing a stormy relationship with his parents. Wornat describes his parents as overbearing and abusive and said he often fled to his grandmother's house for refuge. "They would punish him with beatings, taking a belt and beating him. He'd escape to his grandmother's, who'd protect him," Wornat said.
The claims in the book are indeed controversial, but Wornat is no stranger to controversy. Her book "Our Holy Mother" brought down Argentinean Archbishop Edgardo Gabriel Storni over sex abuse allegations. Her 2003 book "The Woman Boss," about Mexico's former first lady Marta Sahagun de Fox, became a best-seller and is still making headlines.
Wornat said she was impressed by Chavez, showing off the reporter's notebook that he autographed and in which he called her a comrade. Wornat said she also met with Chavez's inner circle -- Cabinet members, his ex-wives, lovers and even his psychiatrist. Wornat describes Chavez as "a very charismatic person … very seductive … like Fidel [Castro] but much younger."
"I know Hugo Chavez very well," she said on "Exclusiva." "I have investigated Hugo Chavez. Hugo Chavez is a pragmatist, very sensitive. … He looks you in the eyes and recites poetry. He's very simpatico. But at the same time he's a man that you can talk to about theology, you can talk to him about politics. He's very well read."
"I spoke to his psychiatrist, Dr. Chirino," she said. "He's the president's psychiatrist in Venezuela. Venezuela is a very colorful country with lots of surrealism. … What could be absurd in another country -- to speak to the psychiatrist of the president, in Venezuela you actually speak to the psychiatrist of the president. He said Hugo Chavez is bipolar and takes Prozac … He sleeps very little. … three or four hours … There are times he gets very depressed and when he does, he disappears and no one knows where he has gone," she said.
But where does the president go when he disappears? No one really knows, according to Wornat. But, she said, he could take refuge at the home of a lover. Wornat said she spoke to one of his former lovers -- and perhaps the love of Chavez's life -- Herma Marsksman, whose relationship with Chavez lasted more than 20 years. "I saw the letters he wrote her, in his handwriting, and they were very corny but very much in love," said Wornat.
"Herma Marksman also confirmed that he is bipolar and takes medication," said Wornat. "She said he was bipolar since he was a teen."