Venezuela's Chavez vows to win health battle

President tells thousands gathered outside his palace that he still has to submit to "strict" medical treatment.

    The Venezuelan president, who returned from Cuba on wee hours of Monday, met leaders from Latin America [Reuters]

    Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has vowed to win the battle to regain his health after an operation in Cuba for a cancerous tumor as his country celebrates 200 years of independence from Spain.

    Chavez was addressing delirious supporters on Monday from the balcony of his presidential palace on his return after cancer treatment in Cuba.

    Thousands gathered opposite the Miraflores palace, cheering, waving banners and sporting the red colours of the 56-year-old socialist leader's ruling party.

    Chavez spoke strongly but was thinner and paler than usual. He wore the red beret from his days as an army paratroop commander.

    He thanked Fidel Castro, saying that the veteran leader has been practically his "medical chief" while recovering in Cuba. He said he will "win this battle for life."

    Chavez arrived at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas early on Monday as the country was preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.

    However, the Venezuelan president did not participate in the celebrations on Tuesday. In fact, Chavez had indicated on Monday that he wouldn't be able to fully participate in the Independence Day events.

    Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from Caracas, said, "The military parade has started but people are disappointed as Hugo Chavez could not make it to the occasion."

    "The only time he spoke was yesterday from his presidential palace," she said.

    "Though his supporters have faith in him and his leadership, the opposition has doubts about his recovery," the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

    "The government has been very secretive about his health and even now we don’t know what the treatment will be and how long will it take."

    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 nation for the last 12 years.

    "It took all of us by surprise," Villamizar said about Chavez's return.

    "This is a date that is important for the Venezuelan people, but it is also an important date for Chavez himself who has compared his rule here in Venezuela, his leadership, to that of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela," our correspondent said.

    Bolivar, the Caracas-born 19th-century general who liberated much of Latin America from colonial rule, is the inspiration for Chavez's self-styled "Bolivarian Revolution". Since 1999, the country has been officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

    Venezuelan state television on Monday showed footage of Chavez leaving Havana and then arriving in Caracas at about 2am. The video report also showed Chavez bidding farewell to Cuban leader Raul Castro.

    "I'm fine. I'm happy," Chavez, 56, said upon his arrival.

    He hugged his vice-president, Elias Jaua, and his elder brother, Adan, after stepping down from the plane. "A perfect landing," Chavez said.

    In a telephone interview, Chavez later told state television he was having breakfast. "I'm devouring everything," he said.

    Secrecy surrounding illness

    Chavez, who had been in Cuba since June 8, was rushed to hospital on June 10 for what was initially described as a "pelvic abscess".

    He revealed on Thursday that he had a cancerous growth, which was fully removed in a second operation. There had been previous speculation that he was seriously ill.

    Despite euphoria among supporters, Chavez's exact condition remains unclear, and he may still face lengthy treatment in Venezuela.

    A military hospital was prepared for his arrival.

    "He has been away from the country for almost a month. He has undergone two operations for cancer, we do not know what type of cancer. His foreign minister said that the tumour was encapsulated and extracted successfully, which would lead someone to think he was on a recovery phase," Al Jazeera's Villamizar said.

    "But it is not clear if this disease has spread, if he is going to have to undergo chemotherapy, all of that remains a mystery."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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