Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has told a Cuban audience the United States is right to worry about growing leftist leadership in Latin America, because it means the end of what he called the U.S. empire.

Mr. Chavez spoke in Havana Friday after accepting a cultural preservation award presented by his close ally, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described as "worrisome" the rise of Mr. Chavez and other elected populist leaders in Latin America.

The exchange coincides with a diplomatic spat between Washington and Caracas. On Friday, the United States announced it is expelling a Venezuelan diplomat, Jeny Figueredo Frias in response to Caracas expelling a U.S. official, Naval attache John Correa for alleged spying.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.