CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States apologized on Thursday for joking how bullets would sound going through "empty" heads of government opponents.
"I added a bit of black humor at the end that might have been a mistake," the veteran diplomat and former foreign minister, Roy Chaderton, said of his controversial remarks earlier in the week.
"If I upset well-intentioned people, I willingly offer my apologies," he added in an interview with local Union Radio, saying those who had insulted him should also say sorry.
Even by the often vitriolic standards of political discourse in polarized Venezuela, Chaderton's remarks caused widespread shock. Opposition members have been calling for him to step down from the regional OAS body.
The comments came when he was explaining how sniper bullets would not distinguish between "Chavistas" and "squalid ones" - terms coined during the 1999-2013 rule of socialist leader Hugo Chavez to describe government supporters and opponents.
"The sound produced in a squalid head is like a click because the skull is empty. So it goes through fast," he said with a smirk on a late-night state TV chat show.
The comments touched a raw nerve given recent deaths around political protests. A policeman shot dead a boy during anti-government protests last month, and there were 43 deaths last year in violence sparked by anti-government demonstrations.
In Thursday's radio interview, Chaderton argued that his critics had twisted his comments and missed his point that opponents of President Nicolas Maduro's government would also be at risk if there was a U.S. invasion of Venezuela.
Washington's recent declaration that socialist-run Venezuela is a security threat has revived harsh rhetoric between the ideological enemies and brought accusations from Maduro that the United States may consider a military invasion.
"The underlying message was to warn them (opponents) to take care because they too can be victims of the powers they sympathize with," the ambassador said.
As well as suffering political violence, Venezuela has the world's second-worst homicide rate, according to the United Nations. The country is also awash with guns.
Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Cynthia Osterman