Ailing Chavez Returns to Venezuela From Cuba

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -
A supporter of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez holds a poster outside the military hospital after his surprise return to Caracas Monday. (REUTERS/Jorge Silva)
A supporter of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez holds a poster outside the military hospital after his surprise return to Caracas Monday. (REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

President Hugo Chavez returned to Venezuela early Monday after more than two months of treatment in Cuba following cancer surgery, his government said, triggering street celebrations by supporters who welcomed him home while he remained out of sight at Caracas’ military hospital.

Chavez’s announced return to Caracas came less than three days after the government released the first photos of the president in more than two months, showing him looking bloated and smiling alongside his daughters. The government didn’t release any additional images of Chavez upon his arrival in Caracas, and unanswered questions remain about where he stands in a difficult and prolonged struggle with an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer.

Chavez was re-elected to a new six-year term in October, and his inauguration, originally scheduled for Jan. 10, was indefinitely postponed by lawmakers in a decision that the Supreme Court upheld despite complaints by the opposition. Some speculated that with Chavez back, he could finally be sworn in.

Government officials didn’t address that possibility.

Hundreds of Chavez supporters celebrated his return in downtown Caracas, chanting his name and holding photos of the president in Bolivar Plaza. A man holding a megaphone boomed: “Our commander has returned!”

Fireworks exploded in some parts of Caracas.

Chavez’s precise condition and the sort of cancer treatments he is undergoing remain a mystery, and speculation has grown recently that he may not be able to stay on as president.

Dr. Carlos Castro, scientific director of the Colombian League Against Cancer in Bogota, Colombia, said that given the government’s accounts that Chavez is undergoing “complex” treatment, he thinks he likely will have to step down.

“Unfortunately, the cancer he has isn’t going to go away, and he’s returning to continue his battle. But I think he’s conscious that he isn’t going to win his fight against cancer, as much as he’d like to win it,” Castro told the AP in a telephone interview.

The Venezuelan Constitution says that if a president dies or steps down, a new vote must be called and held within 30 days. Chavez raised that possibility before he left for Cuba in December by saying that if necessary, VP Maduro should run in a new vote to replace him.

The 58-year-old president hasn’t spoken publicly since he left for Cuba on Dec. 10.