George Bush, the then US president, denied any US involvement in the abortive coup and called on Chavez, who is critical of US policy, to "learn a lesson" from the attempted overthrow.

'Receding popularity'

Carter told El Tiempo that he believed Chavez was elected in a "fair" vote in 1999, had carried out necessary reforms for Venezuela and ensured that "those who are traditionally excluded are able to get a larger share of the national wealth".

But he also said he was worried by the Venezuelan leader's drift towards "authoritarianism" and added that he felt Chavez's popularity at home and his influence abroad have receded.

Carter said that Barack Obama, the US president, had told him he would eventually like to have normal relations with Venezuela.

"But he [Chavez] has made this almost impossible," Carter said, adding that "international relations would be better if he would stop his attacks and insults against the United States".