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Ailing Chavez returns to Venezuela from Cuba

  • Article by: IAN JAMES
  • Associated Press
  • February 18, 2013 - 5:34 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returned home to Venezuela early Monday after more than two months of medical treatment in Cuba following cancer surgery.

Chavez's return was announced in a series of message on his Twitter account, saying "we will continue our treatment here."

"We've arrived once again in our Venezuelan homeland. Thank you, my God!!" the first of the three messages said.

They were the first messages to appear on Chavez's Twitter account since Nov. 1.

"I'm clinging to Christ and trusting in my doctors and nurses," Chavez said in another tweet. "Onward toward victory always!! We will live and we will triumph!!"

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on television that Chavez at arrived at 2:30 a.m. and was taken to the Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in Caracas, where he will continue his treatment.

Chavez also thanked Fidel and Raul Castro, who have overseen his treatment in Cuba, and thanked his country's people "for so much love."

Chavez's return to Caracas came less than three days after the government released the first photos of the president in more than two months, showing images of him smiling alongside his daughters. The government didn't release any images of Chavez upon his arrival in Caracas.

"We're very happy," Maduro said. He said he had accompanied the president on the trip, along with Chavez's daughter Rosa, his brother Adan and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

The vice president said that Chavez has been in a "continuous battle" and that additional details will be provided about his condition later.

The government didn't offer an explanation as to why Chavez made his surprise return on Monday. Government officials have in recent weeks said that it wasn't clear when the president's medical team would allow him to return to Venezuela, though they had said they hoped it would be soon.

After the announcement of his return, state television played upbeat music from last year's presidential campaign, repeating the lyrics "Chavez, heart of the nation!"

The 58-year-old president hasn't spoken publicly since he left for Cuba on Dec. 10. He underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery on Dec. 11, and the government says that he is now breathing through a tracheal tube that makes talking difficult.

Chavez is also undergoing other treatments that have not been specified.

He has been receiving cancer treatment in Cuba on-and-off since June 2011. Chavez has said he has had tumors removed from his pelvic region and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Throughout the treatments, Chavez has not revealed the type of cancer or the exact location of the tumors.

Chavez was re-elected to a new six-year term in October, and his inauguration had been scheduled for Jan. 10 but was indefinitely postponed by lawmakers due to his condition after the surgery, which the government has described as delicate.

Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez acknowledged there were risks and said that if his illness prevented him from staying on as president, Vice President Maduro should run in a new election to take his place.

Maduro has traveled repeatedly to Havana in recent weeks and has shown documents he said were signed by Chavez, insisting the president remains in charge. Last week, Maduro said Chavez is undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments, which he didn't specify.

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Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.

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

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