CARACAS, VENEZUELA —
President-elect Donald Trump has received a backhanded compliment from the United States' arch nemesis in Latin America.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Monday night that he is keeping an open mind about Trump and hopes to maintain respectful relations with the incoming Republican administration.
But he said he was certain that whatever geopolitical changes Trump ushers in they won't be more harmful than the policies promoted by the outgoing Barack Obama.
"He won't be worse than Obama, that's the only thing I dare to say," Maduro said on state TV alongside OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo of Nigeria.
During the campaign, Trump denounced "oppression" in Venezuela and accused Maduro of running the oil economy into the ground. In turn, Maduro referred to Trump as a "bandit" and "mental patient."
But the embattled socialist taken a softer tone since Trump's victory as Venezuela's economy, which largely depends on oil exports to the U.S., has spiraled further out of control and political tensions mount.
Obama was initially greeted with enthusiasm by leftist leaders in Latin America, but the goodwill generated by his historic election and opening to communist Cuba has all but vanished in Venezuela, where Maduro frequently accuses the U.S. government of plotting to overthrow him.
The two countries haven't exchanged ambassadors since 2010 and Obama last week extended for another year an executive order declaring a "national emergency" in Venezuela, a designation he used in 2015 to sanction senior officials who cracked down and jailed opponents during a wave of anti-government unrest.
"Obama left a legacy that the big media outlets want to hide," Maduro said Monday, referring to the outgoing president's perpetual war footing in the Middle East and his alleged failure in Latin America to more forcefully condemn the removal of leftist leaders in Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay.
The "Trump era" would certainly bring "big changes" to the world, Maduro said, but he urged caution.
"Let's wait and see what happens. Let's not jump ahead of ourselves. I want to be prudent," he said.
Trump has yet to comment on how he'll handle Venezuela, but many in the opposition are hoping he'll harden the U.S. stance.
Two of his cabinet picks with a strong say in foreign policy, Rex Tillerson for the State Department and retired Gen. John Kelly for Homeland Security, had a long history of feuding with the late Hugo Chavez.