Venezuelan officials hailed the return of their ailing leader President Hugo Chavez, who had been recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba for 10 weeks with little information revealed about his health status.
Chavez returned to Caracas at 2:30 a.m. on Monday, Venezuela’s state-run media reported, and was promptly taken to a military hospital without the typical televised fanfare that has accompanied his previous returns from medical visits to Havana in the 20 months since he was first diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer.
“We have come back to our Venezuelan homeland,” read a post on Chavez’s Twitter account. “Thank you, my God!! Thank you, beloved people!! We will continue treatment here.”
These are the first words Chavez has publicly communicated since he left for Havana on Dec. 10, and underwent his fourth cancer-related operation on Dec. 11.
The Venezuelan government has provided scant details regarding the operation and Chavez’s health, revealing only that he had contracted a lung infection after the surgery and would remain in Cuba to recover.
Last Friday, the government released several photos of Chavez, lying awake and smiling in his hospital bed with two of his daughters, Rosa Virginia and Maria Gabriela, at his side.
While the Venezuelan media averted its attention from Chavez's early morning arrival, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas celebrated his return on the government television station.
“He’s back! Bravo! Commander Chavez has returned,” Villegas said, the BBC reported. “We are very happy to be able to share this joyous news. Congratulations Venezuela!”
Chavez, 58, has yet to be sworn into his third six-year term, after winning re-election in October.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the government’s decision to postpone it indefinitely while Chavez recovers.
The political opposition criticized the ruling party amid demands for the government to provide more information about Chavez’s health and that National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello be installed as interim leader in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who was appointed by Chavez and not elected, has been serving as head of state in the president’s absence.
Before his departure to Havana in December, Chavez named Maduro as his political successor.
Under the Venezuelan constitution, new elections must be held within 30 days if the president leaves office within the first four years of his or her term.