Venezuela celebrates Chavez return after surgery

Still few details about his cancer and condition

Supporters of President Hugo Chavez cheered in Bolivar Square in Caracas.
Fernando Llano/Associated Press
Supporters of President Hugo Chavez cheered in Bolivar Square in Caracas.

CARACAS — President Hugo Chavez made a surprise return to Venezuela on Monday, 10 weeks after leaving for cancer surgery in Cuba, sparking celebration among his supporters.

VTV, the government television station, said he arrived at 2:30 a.m. and was taken to the Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in the capital, where he will continue his treatment for an unspecified form of pelvic cancer.

‘‘We have arrived again in Venezuela,’’ said a post at 3:42 a.m. on Chavez’s long-dormant Twitter account. ‘‘Thank you, my God! Thank you, beloved people! We will continue treatment here.’’ It was the first message on his Twitter account since November.


Chavez, 58, has been out of sight and silent since his Dec. 11 surgery, plunging the country into increasing uncertainty.

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The government did not televise the president’s arrival or release video or photographs Sunday, unlike his returns from Cuba on previous trips. Nor did he address the country.

Officials said Friday that because of a breathing tube in Chavez’s throat, he had difficulty speaking.

Three days ago, officials released photographs of Chavez for the first time since his surgery. The photographs showed a smiling Chavez lying in a hospital bed flanked by two of his daughters. They were the first photos of the president in more than two months.

Officials gave no further information about Chavez’s condition Sunday or indicated when he might be sworn into office for a new term. Chavez was elected to another six-year term in October, but his inauguration, originally scheduled for Jan. 10, was indefinitely postponed.


“We are very happy,’’ Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in an early morning telephone call to the government television station. ‘‘He is an example of permanent battle, and here we have him in Caracas, in our Caracas, in our Venezuela, here he is, our commander.’’

However, when he was asked by a television announcer for information on Chavez’s condition, Maduro declined to provide details.

A short time later, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas led a televised celebration in response, calling members of the station staff onto a set and chanting: ‘‘He returned! He returned!’’ Villegas said he had not seen the president and that the government will provide updates about his condition ‘‘whether they’re good or they’re bad.’’

Another post on the president’s Twitter account thanked the Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro and added, ‘‘Thanks to Venezuela for so much love!’’

‘‘I am holding tight to Christ and confident in my doctors and nurses,’’ a third post said. ‘‘We will live and we will win!’’


Chavez shocked the nation Dec. 8 by announcing that his cancer had returned and that he would have to go to Cuba for emergency surgery. He left Dec. 10 and had the operation the next day.

A decision by lawmakers to postpone the January inauguration indefinitely has been upheld by the Supreme Court. The country has been run since his departure by Maduro; Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly president; and a group of government ministers.

The opposition has protested vehemently, charging that the arrangement is unconstitutional and asking for more detailed information about the president’s health. In recent days, a group of 21 students had chained themselves together in protest in front of the Cuban Embassy in Caracas.

The government has never said what type of cancer Chavez has or where exactly in his body it occurred, although it has said that his recent surgery, his fourth since June 2011, was followed by complications, including bleeding and a severe lung infection.

On Friday, Jorge Arreaza, the science and technology minister who is married to one of Chavez’s daughters, said the president was undergoing palliative treatment. He did not elaborate.

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 while the president’s followers celebrated.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the hospital, where a sign atop the building is adorned with a photo of Chavez.

Holding photos of Chavez and wearing the red T-shirts of his socialist movement, they chanted: ‘‘He’s back!’’ As cars passed, drivers honked in support.

Six hospital employees who were asked about the president said they had not seen him. Yusmeli Teran, a waitress who serves food to patients, told the Associated Press that the area where Chavez was being treated on the ninth floor is a restricted area guarded by police and soldiers. ‘‘No one has seen him at all,’’ she said.