Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez take part in
a gathering at Plaza Bolivar in Caracas after Chavez made a
surprise return from Cuba. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made a surprise
return from Cuba, more than two months after surgery for cancer
that has jeopardized his 14-year rule of the South American
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 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
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 on Monday. "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
FIREWORKS MARK RETURN
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 emphasised in recent days that his condition remains
"It's a complex, difficult situation, but Chavez is fighting
for his life," Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said at the
A euphoric crowd quickly gathered outside the hospital where
Chavez was taken, chanting slogans and dancing. Officials
urged them to respect the peace of patients at the facility,
where a huge banner of Chavez's face gazes out over a nearby
Congressional leader Diosdado Cabello said the president was
comfortable at the hospital. "We're fixing all the details
there so he lacks absolutely nothing," he said.
In the first images since his latest surgery, officials
published photos on Friday showing a smiling Chavez lying in
a hospital bed, reading a newspaper and flanked by his
The government said he was breathing through a tracheal tube
and struggling to speak.
One woman, who told state TV she was a nurse, said Chavez had
arrived walking and without a wheelchair or visible tubes.
After winning re-election in October - and wrongly declaring
himself cured - Chavez was unable to attend his own
inauguration ceremony in January. Enraging his foes, the
Supreme Court ruled that he remained president and could be
sworn in later.
That could now take place at the military hospital.
"Now the president is back, there can be no doubt about the
democratic institutions working in Venezuela," said
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas.
"There were some who dreamed of unseating Chavez and the
revolution, but here we always said Chavez is the president
elected and re-elected by the will of the Venezuelan people."
Chavez's condition means there is a little chance he could
quickly slip back into his old routine of thundering oratory,
hours-long talk shows and casual chats in the street with
CUBA 'BREATHING EASIER'
Chavez's pre-dawn return was a typical surprise move for the
former soldier whose rule has combined constant political
theatrics with radical anti-U.S. speeches, tough treatment of
opponents and lavish spending of oil revenue on the poor.
Critics have decried the secrecy over his health, and some
want a formal declaration that he is no longer fit to rule.
That would trigger a new presidential vote within 30 days,
probably pitting Maduro against opposition leader Henrique
Chavez's lengthy stay in Cuba had fuelled a long-held
opposition accusation that Venezuela's government was being
manipulated and directed from Havana. Former Cuban leader
Fidel Castro is a political mentor and father figure to
Chavez, and the older man visited him regularly in the
"I'm pleased you have been able to return to the piece of ...
soil you love so much and the fraternal people who give you
so much support," he wrote to Chavez in a letter published by
the Cuban government on Monday.
"You have learnt a lot about life, Hugo, in those tough days
of suffering and sacrifice," he said, urging continued
discretion over the president's condition to thwart
"fascists" intent on toppling him.
A senior diplomatic source in the region said Cuban officials
would be breathing more easily after Chavez's departure,
partly because the political costs to Cuba were starting to
mount as many wondered who was running Venezuela.
Maduro also was being hurt ahead of any new election, the
source said, as Capriles increasingly accused the vice
president and other officials of lying about the president's
Some 20 Venezuelan students have spent the past four days
chained up close to the Cuban Embassy in Caracas in protest
at what they see as interference from Havana.
Maduro, 50, a former bus driver, is Chavez's heir apparent
and would be favorite to win a close vote.
Chavez's return eclipses debate over a recent devaluation of
the local bolivar currency. It has been highly unpopular with
Venezuelans and opposition politicians have sought to present
it as evidence of economic incompetence by the government.
Capriles welcomed Chavez back but pointedly said he hoped it
would mean a return to order in government and attention to
the daily problems of Venezuelans.