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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Goes Home After Cancer Treatment

February 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There was surprising news for many Venezuelans this morning, as they got word that their leader, Hugo Chavez, who had been away from his country for months, had returned there in the middle of the night.

Ray Suarez reports.

RAY SUAREZ: Venezuela’s minister of information, Ernesto Villegas, proclaimed the news on state television: President Hugo Chavez had returned.

MINISTER OF INFORMATION ERNESTO VILLEGAS, Venezuela: Congratulations to the Venezuelan people for the strength and maturity you have had during all of these days of companionship and solidarity with Commandant Chavez.

RAY SUAREZ: The fiery leftist leader seen in these photographs from Friday had spent more than two months in Cuba for cancer treatment. The photos showed Chavez, his two daughters, and that day’s newspaper, as if to quash rumors that he had died.

But today, unlike previous returns from medical visits to Cuba, there were no images of his early morning homecoming. Still, supporters celebrated outside the military hospital where the 58-year-old Chavez is continuing treatment.

MAN: Venezuela waits for you with open arms, my commandant. We love you. We want you. And there’s an entire population that will support you always.

RAY SUAREZ: And Chavez in his first direct communication with the world since departing for Cuba updated his followers via Twitter. “We have returned to the Venezuelan fatherland. Thank you, my God. Thank you, my beloved people. We will continue the treatment here.” He added, “I remain attached to Christ and trusting in my nurses and doctors.”

And he echoed the words of Cuba’s Che Guevara: “Onward to victory forever. We will live and we will conquer.”

Meanwhile, opposition leaders continued to criticize the secrecy surrounding the president’s health. He won reelection in October and had been slated to be sworn in again in January, but the country’s Supreme Court ruled the inauguration could be postponed until his health improved. That led to questions about who was actually running the oil-rich nation.

Chavez’s main opponent in the last election, Henrique Capriles, who accused the government of lying about Chavez’s condition, said today he hopes that now the government can refocus on the challenges facing the country.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI, Former Venezuelan Presidential Candidate: During the last few weeks, the only thing we have heard from them are insults, words of hate, which are making Venezuelans turn against each other. I also hope the return of the president means that the country is going to begin to know that things will be spoken of truthfully and furthermore to dedicate our time and energy to what is important.

RAY SUAREZ: No specifics were given today on Chavez’s current state of recovery or when he might officially be sworn in to his new term in office.