CARACAS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a surprise return from Cuba today, more than two months after surgery for cancer that has jeopardised his 14-year rule of the South American OPEC nation.
The middle-of-the-night homecoming by Chavez, 58, implies some medical improvement – at least enough to handle a flight of several hours – and will again fire up supporters with hope he could return to active rule.
Yet there was no new information on the socialist leader’s condition, nor images of his arrival, and aides say his condition remains “complex.”
Chavez could be returning to govern behind the scenes or could be hoping to ease political tensions in Venezuela and smooth a transition to Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
Chavez has urged voters to back Maduro should he have to stand down and a new presidential election be held.
“We have returned to the Venezuelan fatherland. Thank you, my God! Thank you, my beloved people! We will continue the treatment here,” Chavez said via Twitter after flying in.
Maduro said Chavez flew in at about 2:30 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) from Havana and was taken to a military hospital in Caracas.
Until photos were published of him on Friday, Chavez had not been seen by the public since a six-hour operation in Cuba on December 11.
There had been speculation Chavez was not well enough to travel despite wanting to return for continued treatment for the disease, which was first diagnosed in mid-2011.
“I remain attached to Christ and trusting in my nurses and doctors,” the president also tweeted today. “Onwards to victory forever! We will live and we will conquer!”
The tweets were his first direct communication with the outside world since he went to Cuba in December.
His return thrilled supporters in the country of 29 million people, where his common touch and heavy spending on welfare policies have made him an idol to many of the poor.
“It’s fabulous news, the best thing possible,” Chavez’s cousin, Guillermo Frias, told Reuters from the president’s rural birthplace in Barinas state. “Venezuela was waiting for him, everyone wants to see him. Welcome home! Thank God he’s back!”
Fireworks were launched in some Caracas neighborhoods as the news spread and “Chavistas” began to celebrate. Top government officials were jubilant, with the information minister singing “He’s back, he’s back!” live on state TV.
Chavez’s latest surgery was his fourth in just 18 months since the disease was detected. He also has undergone weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and the government has emphasized in recent days that his condition remains delicate.
“It’s a complex, difficult situation, but Chavez is fighting for his life,” Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said at the weekend. (Reuters)