It was never easy for a foreign journalist to interview Hugo Chávez. So when I and some other foreign journalists were called to the presidential palace for an interview, we leapt at the chance, even though the time arranged was 10 pm. We arrived and waited and waited, with flunkeys periodically supplying us with small cups of very strong coffee. El Comandante arrived at 1 am, full of energy and enthusiasm. As usual, he entertained us with irreverent yet apposite comments on world affairs. He clearly enjoyed seeing us scribbling down in excitement some of his more outrageous comments. Chavez talked and talked, while from time to time more cafecitos arrived, which by then we all needed in order to keep going.
At about 3 am, Chavez apologised for cutting short our talk, saying that he had to be in a town on the Caribbean coast for an early meeting. As we shook hands to leave, I asked him how he kept going at this punishing pace. He laughed and pointed to his coffee cup. “I have at least 25 of these a day”, he said. I got back to my hotel, exhausted but completely unable to sleep. I blamed the coffee, commenting to colleagues the next day that Chavez’s way of life was ruining my health, along with his own. “It will kill him”, I warned.
Chavez’s life style was notorious. Gabriel Garcia Marquez famously commented once that Chavez had a body made of concrete. But who was right: Garcia Marquez or me? It is known that heavy coffee consumption can cause gastritis amd ulcers. Some studies have also suggested that caffeine, particuarly on the scale Chavez ingested it, might be associated with various cancers, including cancer of the pancreas. I’m no expert but, for my money, Chavez has been a victim of his unhealthy life style.