(photo credit: REUTERS)
CARACAS - Venezuela's ever-unpredictable President Hugo Chavez made a surprise homecoming from Cuba on Monday and declared himself "fine" despite speculation his cancer may still require lengthy treatment.
"I'm happy ... I'm going to get some rest," a bubbly-sounding Chavez told state TV by telephone after touching down in the early hours of the morning.
Chavez's return changes the political dynamics once again in Venezuela,
where politicians on all sides had been bracing for a protracted
months-long absence of the man who has dominated the OPEC member nation
for the last 12 years.
In a classic piece of Chavez theater, the president jetted in just in
time for two days of celebrations of Venezuela's 200th anniversary of
independence from Spain.
State media showed video footage of Chavez bidding farewell to Cuban
President Raul Castro in Havana and then being greeted by ebullient
ministers at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas.
"I'm fine. I feel well," Chavez said.
"I'm back at the epicenter of Bolivar," he added, in reference to his
idol Simon Bolivar, a hero of Venezuela's and South America's fight for
independence from Spanish rule.
Sounding ecstatic, Vice President Elias Jaua called on supporters to go
to the Miraflores presidential palace in the afternoon to give Chavez,
56, a welcome reception.