CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s government strongly criticized U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday for characterizing President Hugo Chavez’s policies as authoritarian.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry called Obama’s comments “outrageous” and said it “demands respect from the president of the United States and officials from his government for the dignity of the Venezuelan people, its institutions and especially for the figure of Commander Hugo Chavez.”

Obama said in an interview with WLTV Univision 23 in Miami on Thursday when asked about his message for the Venezuelan people: “The most important thing is to remember that the future of Venezuela should be in the hands of the Venezuelan people. We’ve seen from Chavez in the past authoritarian policies, suppression of dissent.”

Obama said he wouldn’t speculate on the medical condition of Chavez, who underwent his fourth cancer-related operation in Cuba on Tuesday.

“We would want to see a strong relationship between our two countries, but we’re not going to change policies that prioritize making sure that there’s freedom in Venezuela,” Obama said, according to a transcript.

Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas read his government’s response on television Friday, saying that during Chavez’s government “Venezuela has become an authentic democracy.”

It added that Venezuelans “openly exercise freedoms and rights that U.S. society is far from reaching.”

Venezuela also warned that Obama’s comments constituted “evidence of the continuity of its policy of aggression and disrespect toward our country.”

Chavez’s government has long been embroiled in tensions with the U.S. government, even as Venezuela has relied on the U.S. as a top market for its oil.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been without an ambassador since July 2010. Chavez rejected the U.S. nominee for ambassador, Larry Palmer, accusing him of making disrespectful remarks about Venezuela’s government. That led Washington to revoke the visa of the Venezuelan ambassador.