By Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis
CARACAS | Fri Dec 14, 2012 5:38pm EST
(Reuters) - Venezuela's government reacted with fury on Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama's criticism of ailing Hugo Chavez's "authoritarian" government at a time of national anxiety over his battle to recover from cancer surgery.
In an interview with U.S. network Univision, Obama declined to speculate on the 58-year-old socialist president's health in Cuba, where he is in a delicate state after his fourth operation since mid-2011 for cancer in the pelvic region.
But he did say U.S. policy was aimed at ensuring "freedom" in Venezuela. "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 told Univision.
Those remarks were a red cloth to officials in Caracas where emotions are running high over the future of Chavez and his self-styled revolution in the South American OPEC nation.