CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez announced last night that he would formally pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a largely symbolic move because the country already has paid off its debts to the lending institutions.

"We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone," said the leftist leader, who has long railed against the Washington-based lending institutions.

Chavez said he wanted to formalize Venezuela's exit from the two bodies "tonight and ask them to return what they owe us."

Venezuela recently repaid its debts to the World Bank five years ahead of schedule, saving $8 million. It paid off all its debts to the IMF shortly after Chavez first took office in 1999. The IMF closed its offices in Venezuela late last year.

Chavez made the announcement a day after telling a meeting of allied leaders that Latin America overall would be better off without the U.S.-backed World Bank or IMF. He often has blamed their lending policies for perpetuating poverty.

The leftist president also repeatedly has criticized past Venezuelan governments for signing structural-adjustment agreements with the IMF that were blamed for contributing to racing inflation.

Under former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez in 1989, violent protests broke out in Caracas in response to IMF austerity measures that brought an increase in subsidized gasoline prices and public transport fares.

Enraged people took over the streets in violence that killed at least 300 people - and possibly many more. The riots came to be known as the "Caracazo," and Chavez often refers to it as a rebellion against the status quo.