Caracas: Four days after the Venezuelan government released his pictures to the public, President Hugo Chavez has finally arrived in his homeland after a hiatus of two months.
Though, Chavez has not appeared in public yet as he is in Caracas’s military hospital, his supporters have started cheering, sparking street celebrations to welcome him home.
Having undergone treatments, surgeries and chemotherapy sessions to cure his pelvic cancer ailment, President Hugo Chavez was in Cuba since December.
Chavez's return was announced in a series of three messages on his Twitter account, the first of them reading: "We've arrived once again in our Venezuelan homeland. Thank you, my God!! Thank you, beloved nation!! We will continue our treatment here."
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," another tweet on Chavez's account said. "Onward toward victory always!! We will live and we will triumph!!"
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on television that Chavez arrived at 2:30 a.m. and was taken to the Dr. Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in Caracas, where he will continue his treatment.
Chavez's announced return to Caracas came less than three days after the government released the first photos of the president in more than two months, showing him looking bloated and smiling alongside his daughters. The government didn't release any additional images of Chavez upon his arrival in Caracas, and unanswered questions remain about where he stands in a difficult and prolonged struggle with an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer.
Chavez was re-elected to a new six-year term in October, and his inauguration, originally scheduled for Jan. 10, was indefinitely postponed by lawmakers in a decision that the Supreme Court upheld despite complaints by the opposition. Some speculated that with Chavez back, he could finally be sworn in.
Government officials didn't address that possibility.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas broke into song on television early Friday, exclaiming: "He's back, he's back!"
"Bravo," Villegas said, before state television employees joined him in the studio clapping and celebrating.
A giant inflated Chavez doll was placed beside a corner of the National Assembly building.
Villegas reiterated in an interview with Venezuelan broadcaster Union Radio that Chavez is going through a "difficult, hard and complex" recovery process, and that his return doesn't change the "difficult circumstances he has been in."
Hundreds of Chavez supporters celebrated his return in downtown Caracas, chanting his name and holding photos of the president in Bolivar Plaza.
Fireworks exploded in some parts of Caracas while the president's followers celebrated.
Dozens of supporters gathered outside the hospital, where a sign atop the building is adorned with a photo of Chavez. Wearing the red T-shirts of Chavez's socialist movement, they chanted: "He's back!" As cars passed, drivers honked in support.
Chavez's precise condition and the sort of cancer treatments he is undergoing remain a mystery, and speculation has grown recently that he may not be able to stay on as president.
The Venezuelan Constitution says that if a president dies or steps down, a new vote must be called and held within 30 days. Chavez raised that possibility before he left for Cuba in December by saying that if necessary, Maduro should run in a new vote to replace him.
Chavez's return could be used to give a boost to his would-be successor and gain time to "consolidate his alternative leader" ahead of a possible new presidential vote this year, said Luis Vicente Leon, a Venezuelan pollster and political analyst.
Maduro and other Cabinet ministers held hands and prayed in a televised gathering on Monday night where a priest and a minister offered words of thanks for Chavez's return.
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.
With Agency Inputs
First Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 09:27