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Venezuela: After months in Cuba, Hugo Chavez returns home

Chavez's homecoming will fuel supporters' hopes he could return to active rule in Venezuela, though he may be simply hoping to smooth a power transition.

By Andrew CawthorneReuters, Deisy BuitragoReuters / February 18, 2013

A woman reacts to the camera as supporters holding pictures gather in Bolivar square after President Hugo Chavez' return in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday. Chavez returned to Venezuela early Monday after more than two months of medical treatment in Cuba following cancer surgery.

Fernando Llano/AP

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Caracas

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a surprise return from Cuba on Monday more than two months after surgery for cancer that has jeopardized his 14-year rule of the South American OPEC member.

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The 58-year-old socialist leader's homecoming will fuel supporters' hopes he could return to active rule but there was no new information on his medical state and Chavez might be simply hoping to smooth a transition.

After a six-hour operation in Cuba on December 11, Chavez had not been seen or heard in public until photos were published of him on Friday.

"We have arrived back in the Venezuelan fatherland. Thanks, my God! Thanks, my beloved people! Here we will continue the treatment," Chavez said via Twitter after flying in.

There had been speculation Chavez was not well enough to travel despite wanting to return for continued treatment for the disease he was first diagnosed with in mid-2011.

But Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Chavez flew in at about 2:30 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) from Havana and was in a military hospital in Caracas, where a crowd was gathering.

"I remain attached to Christ and trusting in my nurses and doctors," Chavez also tweeted. "Onwards to victory forever! We will live and we will conquer!"

He added his thanks to Cuban leaders Raul and Fidel Castro for his treatment there.

Fireworks mark return

Chavez's arrival thrilled supporters in the nation of 29 million people, where his common touch and welfare policies have made him an idol to the poor.

"It's fabulous news, the best thing possible," Chavez's cousin, Guillermo Frias, told Reuters from the president's rural birthplace in Barinas state. "Venezuela was waiting for him, everyone wants to see him. Welcome home! Thank God he's back!"

Fireworks could be heard going off in some Caracas neighborhoods as news spread and celebrations began among "Chavistas."

Government ministers were jubilant with one singing "He's back, he's back!" live on state TV. They asked Chavez's euphoric supporters to respect the peace of patients at the military hospital.

Chavez's arrival implied some improvement in his condition, at least enough to handle a flight of several hours.

But aides have emphasized in recent days his state remains delicate. "It's a complex, difficult situation, but Chavez is battling and fighting for his life," Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said during the weekend as he described a recent visit to Chavez.

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