Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned to the national spotlight on Valentine's Day to tell United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he misses her verbal attacks.
"It had been days since she had given me any attention. How are you, Condoleezza?" Chavez asked in a speech on Wednesday to pensioners in the capital of Caracas.
It was Chavez's first response to Rice's testimony last week to a US congressional committee that the Venezuelan leader was "destroying his own country" economically and politically - an apparent reference to a centralisation of power in Venezuela and moves to nationalise key sectors of the economy.
"My dear friend Condoleezza says I am destroying the Venezuelan economy," said Chavez, a fierce critic of US-style capitalism, in his first public appearance in 10 days.
"Death to the empire!" Chavez said. "We will not be dominated. We have decided to be free!"
Chavez also said Venezuela was not concerned with plans by the Bush administration to become less dependent on crude from politically unfriendly nations.
"If they do not want to buy it, say it, and I will not sell them oil," he said.
Venezuela's top export market for crude is the United States.
Chavez last appeared in public at a February 4 military parade, during which a man interrupted his speech with shouts before being dragged away by guards.