Barack Obama

Venezuela's Chavez calls Obama "ignoramus"

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama was at best an “ignoramus” for saying the socialist leader exported terrorism and obstructed progress in Latin America.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks at Miraflores palace in Caracas March 21, 2009. REUTERS/Miraflores palace/Handout

“He goes and accuses me of exporting terrorism: the least I can say is that he’s a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality,” said Chavez, who heads a group of left-wing Latin American leaders opposed to the U.S. influence in the region.

Chavez said Obama’s comments had made him change his mind about sending a new ambassador to Washington, after he withdrew the previous envoy in a dispute last year with the Bush administration in which he also expelled the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela.

“When I saw Obama saying what he said, I put the decision back in the drawer; let’s wait and see,” Chavez said on his weekly television show, adding he had wanted to send a new ambassador to improve relations with the United States after the departure of George W. Bush as president.

In a January interview with Spanish-language U.S. network Univision, Obama said Chavez had hindered progress in Latin America, accusing him of exporting terrorist activities and supporting Colombian guerrillas.

“My, what ignorance; the real obstacle to development in Latin America has been the empire that you today preside over,” said Chavez, who is a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy.

In the 20th century the United States supported several armed movements and coups in Latin America. Chavez says Washington had a hand in a short-lived putsch against him in 2002, which was initially welcomed by U.S. officials.

Chavez and Obama will both attend the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago next month. It is not known whether they will meet.

Most of OPEC nation Venezuela’s export income comes from oil it sells to the United States, but Chavez has built stronger ties with countries like China in an attempt to reduce dependence on his northern neighbor.

Chavez expelled its U.S. ambassador in September in a dispute over U.S. activities in his ally Bolivia, which also expelled its U.S. ambassador. Ecuador’s left-wing President Rafael Correa this year kicked out a mid-ranking U.S. diplomat.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Eric Walsh