President Hugo Chavez said he will need radiation treatment for cancer during the run-up to Venezuela's October presidential poll, even though he insisted there was no evidence of metastasis after the removal of another tumour.
I will live! I will overcome! the 57-year-old socialist leader said in a televised meeting with some cabinet colleagues from Cuba, where he underwent an operation six days ago for a recurrence of the cancer that first struck him last year.
Chavez's comments about his health came at the end of a 90-minute address to Venezuelans, shown on state TV, in which he expressed confidence in his recovery, told jokes, signed state papers and even broke into song.
He is seeking to extend his 13-year rule at a presidential election in October, but his health problems have raised doubts about his capacity to campaign for the presidency or to rule for another six-year term should he win.
His rival, 39-year-old opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles, is keeping quiet on Chavez's health, simply wishing him a speedy recovery. But Capriles may benefit politically from the contrast between his own image of youth and energy and that of the ailing president.
In his comments from Havana, which were broadcast on Sunday but recorded on Saturday, Chavez varied between smiling enthusiasm and moments of introspection.
We are all human, we are all extinguishable, more so with the life I have had, where one year seems like a hundred, said Chavez, who stormed to power as an outsider for the 1998 election and has since then survived street protests, a brief coup, an oil strike and the opprobrium of the United States.
Chavez gave no word on when he would return to Venezuela.
He scoffed at speculators with nothing better to do, who had suggested his cancer had spread - or metastasized - to other organs, saying that was not true.
They (doctors) proved the absence of any other lesions either locally, or in nearby organs, or in ones further away. Neither was there metastasis, thank God.
A two-centimetre (0.8-inch) tumour had been successfully removed from the same pelvic area where a larger tumour was taken out in 2011, Chavez said.
This time the recovery is much quicker, he said. My recovery is firm, fast and sustained, honestly,
Radiation treatment would, however, be needed, the president said, without giving details of how long it would take. If Chavez is prevented from actively campaigning, it would be the first time in about a dozen national polls that the famously energetic campaigner has not criss-crossed the nation to woo voters.
ALLIES VOW UNITY
In a carefully-choreographed appearance to project an image of being on top of government affairs, a smiling Chavez imparted numerous instructions and signed a raft of approvals for funds to be released for government projects.
This event we are forced to face must not slow anything. On the contrary - we should accelerate. More spiritual force, more moral strength, more ideological muscle, more revolutionary strength, he said, as his aides applauded.
Chavez also lambasted Venezuela's opposition as bourgeoisie intent on dismantling his welfare policies for the poor, spoke of an increasingly fervent Catholic faith and - as always - broke into verse at several points.
I never used to light candles, but I do now, he said, reading a prayer and showing an image of Cuba's Virgin of Charity.
Chavez, a close friend of former Cuban president Fidel Castro, prefers treatment in Havana because he is guaranteed discreet treatment and a lower possibility of media leaks.
Within minutes of Chavez's broadcast, senior allies at home pledged loyalty and unity - seeking to scotch speculation of an ugly struggle for political succession within the upper echelons of the ruling Socialist Party.
The candidate for the Bolivarian Revolution is called Hugo Chavez Frias. The only one who guarantees stability in this country is Hugo Chavez Frias, Congress head and former military comrade Diosdado Cabello said of his boss at a rally.
There was no immediate reaction from Capriles' camp. He embarked this week on a door-to-door, nationwide tour to drum up votes for the October election.
Capriles has so far avoided being drawn into any head-to-head verbal confrontations with Chavez.
Shrugging off being called a pig and fascist by Chavez and his allies, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Unity opposition coalition, who professes Brazil's modern left model as his inspiration, sticks to a political discourse about unemployment, crime, education and other social issues.
I am going to reach every little corner of Venezuela, even the places where people say 'no one gets there', to talk about what progress means, he said this weekend.
(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Eyanir Chinea and Mario Naranjo; Editing by Paul Simao)