For businessmen, Hugo Chavez’s visit to Bangalore was a memorable one

Business leaders in Bangalore were treated to an “unusual delight” when they met President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez on March 7, 2005, almost exactly eight years before he passed away on Wednesday (Indian time). In his only public engagement in the city that day, Mr. Chavez addressed members of the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI).

“Although he spoke like a dictator, he left us deeply impressed by his simplicity,” recalled the then president of the FKCCI Manandi N. Suresh. “Though it was a business meeting, he also spoke politics… Mr. Chavez spoke about how the United States was plotting against him but that he would not budge.”

Technology for oil

Mr. Chavez focussed on how oil from his country could help India. “Venezuela has a lot of oil, but we want to share it with the world,” he said. In return, he asked for technology and know-how to deal with the problem of hunger in his country.

“I remember that meeting vividly because I have never seen a dignitary or head of state who was as charismatic as Mr. Chavez,” said R.C. Purohit, director, Bhoruka Group, who was then vice-president of the FKCCI.  As soon as the speeches were over Mr. Chavez mingled with the audience, he added.

According to Mr. Suresh, Mr. Chavez promised to establish a “special office, which would remove bureaucratic hurdles” to investments from India, especially Karnataka. He was particularly interested in investments and imports of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, leather goods, engineering goods, garments and, interestingly, incense sticks.

Members were “floored” by the charismatic leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Mr. Suresh said. “There was a not a hint of arrogance or of the ego we had expected from a dictator, which is what most of the media had described him as.”

What was the most striking aspect of the businessmen’s encounter with the most popular leader in South America? “There was absolutely no fanfare of the kind that we normally associate with the visit of a head of state,” Mr. Suresh said.

While in Bangalore, Mr. Chavez, accompanied by his grandson, attended an air show organised by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL). A.K. Baweja, then chairman of HAL, said: “I was struck by his strong personality, but I suppose that is true of all great leaders.”