CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez slipped back to Venezuela during the night, making a surprise return early Monday morning after more than three weeks recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba.
"We are preparing a light rest now in the morning, because you understand that it’s the beginning of my return; it’s a strict medical check-up, medicine, rehabilitation, well, I look like a cadet,” Chávez told VTV state TV station. “I even am wearing the sports clothes from the military academy. Well, I’m very happy.”
Chávez, 56, left Venezuela for a three-country tour last month, and raised eyebrows when he stayed behind in Cuba. Initially, his administration insisted that he only had a pelvic abscess that had to be drained. On Thursday, a solemn Chávez gave a nationwide address admitting that doctors detected cancer. He said a second surgery removed a cancerous tumor, but did not say what kind of cancer he has, or at what stage.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the cancer has not spread.
Chávez admitted that he never listened to his doctors in the past -- and sometimes did the opposite of whatever they instructed. “Not now,” he said Monday.
Opposition lawmakers and experts here have insisted he either return or hand over power to Vice President Elías Jaua. Jaua refused, saying Chávez was in full control of the nation and operating legally from abroad. Jaua says Venezuelan law would allow the ailing former paratrooper to govern from outside the country for as long as six months.
Throughout the weekend, the Venezuelan government aired videos of Chavez visiting with his family and meeting with his cabinet.
In a video aired Monday morning, Chávez was shown at the Havana airport tarmac in the dark of night, warmly bidding goodbye to Cuban leader Raúl Castro. Upon landing at Caracas’ Maiquetia airport, he hugged his Vice President and broke into song.
“This reminds me of that song: ‘Maiquetia,’” he sang.
“Raúl and Fidel almost boarded the plane with me,” he said. “Venezuela and Cuba are the same thing, the same country -- the great country.”
He announced that he would speak to the public from the balcony of the presidential palace this evening.
Venezuela will celebrate its 200th bicentennial independence celebration Tuesday. Massive celebrations had been planned, and Chávez’s presence was considered important.
“I don’t think I can accompany you tomorrow at the official events, but I’m here and will be with you from my command post -- from the heart of Caracas, the heart of Venezuela,” he said. “The beginning of my return, until my full return.”
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