Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, whose law firm represents an American subsidiary of a Hugo Chavez-controlled oil company, said Tuesday that the socialist Venezuelan president is dangerous to U.S. interests.

In a speech to Hispanic small business leaders, the Republican brought up Chavez while discussing ways the United States could become free from its reliance on foreign oil.

"Isn't it annoying, upsetting and even in some cases a matter of national security that we have to send money to our enemies?" Giuliani asked. "We need a president who knows how to get things done so we don't have to be sending money to Chavez."

Giuliani called for the United States to develop alternative energy sources and take advantage of oil already in its control. He said that antagonistic leaders of oil-rich nations, like Chavez, would have "little power" if the United States could stop buying oil from them.

"Who would listen to Chavez if he didn't have all this oil money? Nobody would listen to him," Giuliani said.

He said Chavez's social programs and those of Cuban leader Fidel Castro "keep people in poverty" and "keep people dependent."

Giuliani argued that "astounding" unemployment levels show that the Venezuelan president isn't using his oil revenues to help his own countrymen.

The former New York City mayor spoke to The Latino Coalition's small business economic summit the same day that Chavez's government took over the last privately run oil fields in Venezuela, one of the world's top oil exporters.

Petroleos de Venezuela, the country's national oil company that Chavez controls, bought U.S.-based Citgo Petroleum Corp. in 1990. The Houston law firm now known as Bracewell & Giuliani has represented Citgo in matters involving the Texas legislature since 2005.

Giuliani's campaign says he does no lobbying for Citgo and he joined the law firm after it was already involved with the company. He has been defending the relationship for weeks, saying the firm represents a U.S. company that employs thousands of people in the United States.

"I feel perfect freedom to point out that Hugo Chavez is a person who's acting against the interests of the United States. He's someone where we'd be in a much better position if we could cut him off. If we could say we don't want or need Venezuelan oil," Giuliani told reporters after the speech. "I don't think there's anyone that's more outspoken about how dangerous I think he is."

Chavez, who says he wants to steer Venezuela toward socialism, is a strident critic of U.S.-style capitalism and a leader of the leftist movement in Latin America. Chavez has denounced President Bush as "the devil."