Chavez tells Rice: ‘Don’t mess with me, girl’
Leader responds to secretary of state calling Venezuela a ‘problem’

Updated: 3:43 p.m. ET Feb. 19, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Sunday warned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not to “mess with” him days after Rice described Venezuela as a menace to regional democracy in the midst of tense diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“Don’t mess with me Condoleezza. Don’t mess with me, girl,” Chavez said during his weekly Sunday broadcast, sarcastically offering her a kiss and jokingly referring to her as “Condolence.”

The warning comes days after Rice described Venezuela as one of the “biggest problems” for the Western Hemisphere and promised to develop regional alliances as part of an “inoculation” strategy to expose what the State Department calls anti-democratic behavior in Venezuela.

Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of trying to topple him, and says the United States will attempt to sow chaos this year as he launches a re-election bid.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, have been strained since Chavez accused the United States of plotting a coup d’etat that briefly ousted him in 2002.

Chavez, a former soldier turned populist leader, has promised to create socialist revolution in Venezuela and promote regional integration in Latin America to roll back U.S.-supported economic reforms.

The State Department says Chavez is using the nation’s bountiful oil wealth to meddle in the affairs of neighboring countries, and has slammed him for boosting ties to U.S. foes like Cuba and Iran.

Tensions between Washington and Caracas increased in February after Chavez expelled a U.S. naval attache for alleged espionage. The State Department responded by expelling a top Venezuelan diplomat.