Chavez returns home to Venezuela after surgery

Associated Press
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez waves after receiving military honors upon his arrival at the Simon Bolivar airport in Maiquetia , Venezuela, Friday March 16, 2012. Chavez returned home Friday nearly three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
.

View gallery

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned home Friday nearly three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba, saying he is praying for life and is confident he will survive and triumph in his re-election bid.

After stepping off the plane, Chavez smiled and waved but also spoke soberly about the path ahead in his struggle against cancer. At times, his expression turned serious.

"I lift up a prayer... in this battle for life," Chavez said in a televised speech on the tarmac. "I'm going to live. We're going to live, and we're going to keep on overcoming. And in that commitment I will give everything, all the spiritual and physical strength that fits in my heart."

Then, he added: "Or rather, that doesn't fit. ... It's a force much bigger than the Caribbean."

Chavez came home as many Venezuelans are wondering about his long-term prospects and about how his health will evolve ahead of the country's Oct. 7 presidential election. Chavez has kept secret some details of his illness, such as the type of cancer, spurring speculation about how his cancer might affect the country's political landscape.

His close allies have assured Venezuelans that there is no Plan B and that Chavez is the only leader of his movement heading into the elections. Chavez was greeted by his vice president and Cabinet ministers, and soldiers standing at attention.

He stepped down the stairs from the plane hand-in-hand with his mother and one of his daughters. He walked gingerly and seemed less energetic than in previous appearances.

At times, Chavez's mother and another of his daughters seemed on the verge of tears. His mother raised a hand to his head to bless him.

Chavez, whose eyes appeared puffy, said he had prayed with his family in the morning before leaving Cuba.

"This new return comes converted into a prayer, a song, a commitment, a prayer to God," Chavez said. "A new prayer of hope in this battle that it's been up to us to fight."

Chavez vowed to win re-election and criticized his political opponents, saying they represent "the agenda of the right."

He accused opposition-aligned Venezuelan news media of trying to provoke fear and uncertainty in the country. "I call on the country to stay calm," he said.

Chavez also said the country's intelligence agencies should be "very attentive to the movements of these groups of the most extremely radical and irrational right." He didn't elaborate on his concerns.

The 57-year-old leader is seeking another six-year term in the October presidential vote. His rival, 39-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles, has criticized Chavez's handling of his cancer, saying that if he were president his health would "be a matter of public knowledge."

Before Chavez's return, his last appearance on Venezuelan television had came Monday night in a video showing him walking with two of his daughters in a garden in Havana. Chavez appeared in prerecorded video footage during his stay in Cuba, but Friday was the first time state television showed live video of him since he left for Havana on Feb. 24.

The president has said his Feb. 26 surgery in Cuba removed a tumor from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumor was removed in June.

After he was diagnosed with cancer last year, Chavez underwent an initial surgery in June that removed a tumor the size of a baseball.

He then had four rounds of chemotherapy and said tests showed no signs of any cancerous cells. But last month, he announced he was returning to Cuba for surgery to have a lesion removed.

Chavez has described the most recent tumor as measuring about 2 centimeters (0.8 inches). He has declined to identify the precise location where the tumors appeared.

He next plans to undergo radiation therapy, although it's unclear how soon that will begin.

"I feel very recovered," Chavez said at the airport. He said he had regained weight and "I'm stepping up the rhythm little by little again."

He also said that as his mentor Fidel Castro saw him off at the airport in Havana, Castro told him: "Chavez, I know you. Tell your people that you have to be disciplined. They're going to understand, and nobody should think that everything has passed already."

"No," Chavez added, "We're overcoming, but we should continue being rigorously disciplined."

Chavez invited supporters to the presidential palace on Saturday, saying he would address them.

The president sought to keep up with government business while in Cuba. Last weekend, his aides were in Havana for a televised meeting where Chavez reviewed projects ranging from subway expansion work to public housing complexes.

Chavez said he's been paying close attention to events in the country. "I haven't stopped being attentive one single day, even on the most difficult ones," he said.

As he got into a Mercedes to leave the airport, his aides crowed around and chanted: "Chavez, we love you!"

___

Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda and AP photographer Fernando Llano in Caracas contributed to this report.

___

Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap

View Comments (48)

Recommended for You

  • Senate fails to override Obama's veto of Keystone XL approval

    By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate failed on Wednesday to override President Barack Obama's veto of legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, leaving the controversial project to await an administration decision on whether to permit or deny it. The Senate mustered…

    Reuters56 mins ago
  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the…

    AFP
  • France, Cameroon wouldn't take foreigner later shot by LAPD

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A homeless foreigner shot to death by Los Angeles police was in the country illegally after serving time for a bank robbery but couldn't be deported because no country would take him, U.S. immigration authorities said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • 175-Pound Pit Bull Hulk Shatters Misconceptions About the Breed

    This dog just may be the world's largest Pit Bull. Only 18-months-old, Hulk weighs a hefty 175 pounds. He's also best friends with a 3-year-old boy.

    ABC News
  • U.S. may review 1959 airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly

    (Reuters) - U.S. transportation safety investigators said on Wednesday they are reviewing a request to reopen a probe into the 1959 airplane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper," and their pilot. The original investigation 56…

    Reuters
  • Marijuana Growers Arrested After Pocket Dialing 911

    Three men in California were arrested Monday night after one of the suspects pocket dialed 911. The emergency operator who took the call heard two of the men talking about the possibility of getting pulled over, leading to a major drug bust.

    KSWB - San Diego
  • Former marine reported killed in Syria

    A former Royal Marine has become the first Briton to be killed while fighting with Kurdish forces battling Islamic State jihadists in Syria, leaving his family "devastated" Wednesday. Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, died on Monday in a battle with IS militants, a source in the Kurdish People's…

    AFP
  • 'Thousands' of Russian troops in east Ukraine: US envoy

    The United States' senior envoy to Europe alleged Wednesday that Russia had deployed "thousands and thousands" of troops to neighboring Ukraine. Speaking to a congressional foreign affairs committee, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also told US lawmakers that Russia was flooding…

    AFP
  • Mom convicted of killing son, 5, by poisoning him with salt

    WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A woman who blogged for years about her son's constant health woes was convicted Monday of poisoning him to death by force-feeding heavy concentrations of sodium through his stomach tube.

    Associated Press
  • Iranian president says Israel 'greatest danger'

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said Israel creates the "greatest danger" in the region, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against a nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In a speech on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu said Tuesday the nuclear agreement US President…

    AFP
  • Killers sought in deaths of 300,000 chickens in South Carolina

    By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Revenge may be the motive for the killings in South Carolina of more than 300,000 commercial chickens worth about $1.7 million over the past two weeks, authorities said on Monday. Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken houses at…

    Reuters
  • Survivor testifies about 2 friends stabbed, bound, drowned

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A man who survived being beaten, bound, stabbed in the neck and kicked into the Schuylkill River took the stand in a hearing Tuesday and described the night his two friends lost their lives.

    Associated Press
  • Ferguson Officials React to Department of Justice Report

    Officials in Ferguson will comment Wednesday on a scathing report from the Department of Justice about the police department`s treatment of African Americans.

    Tribune
  • Georgia police officer killed in shootout

    By David Beasley ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia police officer was killed in a shootout with a suspect in suburban Atlanta early on Wednesday, authorities said. Officers went to investigate reports of shots in a suburban neighborhood and came under fire about 1:30 a.m. EST, according to the Fulton…

    Reuters
  • Americans Love K-Cups, but Their Creator Regrets Inventing Them

    Now it seems that John Sylvan, the inventor of the tiny containers, is firmly on Team #KillTheKCup too. “No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” said Sylvan.

    Takepart.com
  • Paris Hilton brother Conrad to plead guilty to plane assault

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paris Hilton's youngest brother, Conrad, agreed to plead guilty to assaulting flight attendants on a trip from London to Los Angeles last year when authorities say he called other passengers "peasants" and threatened to kill crew members.

    Associated Press
  • Afghan forces kill dozens of militants in hostage rescue operation

    By Sarwar Amani KANDAHAR (Reuters) - Afghan security forces have killed dozens of militants in a military operation aimed at freeing a group of civilian hostages in southern Afghanistan, an army official said on Wednesday. Eyewitnesses said most passengers belonged to the ethnic Hazara minority, a…

    Reuters
  • Father says no proof his son is 'Jihadi John'

    The father of "Jihadi John" said in an interview published Wednesday that there was no proof that his son was the Islamic State executioner, adding there were a number of "false rumours" circulating. "There is nothing that proves what is being circulated in the media, especially through video clips…

    AFP