January 23, 2009 / 6:57 PM / 9 years ago

Venezuela's Chavez warms to Obama after insults

<p>Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez waits for Argentine President Cristina Fernandez at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas January 22, 2009. REUTERS/Alejandro Rustom</p>

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday warmly greeted President Barack Obama only days after accusing him of “throwing stones” at Venezuela and suggesting he was much like ex-President George W. Bush.

The firebrand socialist, who has promised to end what he calls U.S. imperialism and called Bush “the devil,” praised Obama’s decision to close a prison in Guantanamo, Cuba that has drawn harsh international criticism.

“He is a man with good intentions; he has immediately eliminated Guantanamo prison, and that should be applauded,” Chavez said, speaking to supporters in a televised speech.

“I am very happy and the world is happy that this young president has arrived ... (we) welcome the new government and we are filled with hope,” he said.

His about-face from earlier comments appeared to have been influenced by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Chavez’s political mentor, who earlier this week wrote that Obama had honestly expressed his ideas and maintained “noble intentions.”

Chavez recently said his self-styled socialist revolution would remain in conflict with Washington “whether the chief of the empire is black or white.” He also criticized Obama for repeating Bush administration accusations that he was spreading terrorism and said he carried “the stench” of his predecessor.

“We cannot say that everything that comes from the United States is bad per se, because we would be acting irrationally,” Chavez said on Friday.

Obama has said he is willing to maintain talks with any government in order to overcome diplomatic impasses.

Venezuela and the United States maintain strong commercial ties despite the harsh rhetoric.

Chavez last year expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and has repeatedly threatened to cut oil supplies to the United States -- which depends on Venezuela for around 12 percent of its crude imports -- though analysts say this is unlikely.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Eric Walsh

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