Caracas: President Hugo Chavez made a surprise homecoming on Monday just in time for Venezuela`s independence party and declared himself "fine" but still needing rest after cancer treatment in Cuba that rocked his nation.
"I`m happy ... I`m going to get some rest," a bubbly-sounding Chavez told state TV by telephone.
Chavez`s return immediately changes the political dynamics once again in Venezuela, where politicians on all sides had been bracing for a protracted months-long absence of the man who has dominated the OPEC member nation for the last 12 years.
State media showed video footage of Chavez bidding farewell to Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana and then being greeted by ebullient ministers at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas.
"I`m fine. I feel well," Chavez said.
"I`m back at the epicenter of Bolivar," he added, in reference to his idol Simon Bolivar, a hero of Venezuela`s and South America`s fight for independence from Spanish rule.
Sounding ecstatic, Vice President Elias Jaua called on supporters to go to the Miraflores presidential palace in the afternoon to give Chavez, 56, a welcome reception.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has shown himself on the palace balcony at the biggest moments of his turbulent and incident-packed rule.
The socialist leader returned at about 2 a.m. local time (0630 GMT) in the early hours of Monday, just one day before Venezuela marks the 200th anniversary of Venezuela`s independence.
Chavez, who casts himself as the inheritor of Bolivar`s ideals, had been preparing for Tuesday`s celebrations for years.
"We are delighted the president is home," Jaua said.