March 15, 2007 -- 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."
Chavez's Turbulent Childhood
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.
Lover, Psychiatrist Describe Chavez as Abusive, Bipolar
"Herma Marksman also confirmed that he is bipolar and takes medication," said Wornat. "She said he was bipolar since he was a teen."
When Chavez has a period of depression, Wornat said, he sometimes will just stay in bed. "He could have a high of euphoria and the following week feel like he was in a deep depression. So he'd go from feeling like a king to feeling like he was in the dark," she said.
But Marksman may not have been the most important woman in Chavez's life. That place, said Wornat, is likely reserved for his grandmother. He loved his grandmother, she said. "I think she was the person he loved the most. The one person that most influenced him," she said. "I read the letters he wrote Herma, his lover, in which he spoke about how he had to forget the abuse of his mother and father."
Despite his difficult childhood, Chavez maintains a relationship with his parents, Wornat said. He was born in the state of Barinas, and his parents are the "royal family" of the state, she added.
He may enjoy poetry and writing love letters, but Chavez is a dangerous man in Wornat's eyes.
"Chavez is a dangerous man. He is a head of state who can make a decision in a state of euphoria or in a deep depression. So suddenly he can invite the ayatollahs of Iran or the president of Iran to challenge Bush. I think those attitudes that he has can be even more dangerous than whether he has his brother or family in government," Wornat said.
There is only one person on the world stage who holds sway over Chavez, according to Wornat. "Fidel is the only one. Fidel is like his dad. Fidel is the only one who can make him change his opinion," she said.
In "Accursed Chronicles," Wornat also describes Chavez as having a love for the high life -- and a violent streak.
Wornat said Chavez loves fine Italian suits, has a collection of fine jewelry and watches, and has spent $65 million on a private airbus jet.
Wornat also spoke with Chavez's ex-wife for the book. "Her relationship with Chavez was a very bad one, very turbulent … he would hit her," she said.
A Desire for Martyrdom?
Chavez has said he believes the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been plotting to kill him. Wornat said she thinks he may have a desire to be assassinated.
"I think deep inside he wants to be killed and become a martyr like the Che [Guevara]. And to be loved by the millions and to have a marvelous funeral with millions of Venezuelans running beside his funeral carriage. And he'd become a myth which is what he'd love. But what does Chavez do if oil revenues fall? How does he maintain power while giving all the neighboring countries money? And giving away fistfuls of money the way that he is to the poor Venezuelans? What happens when that ends? The poor Venezuelans will go after him."