Venezuela's Chavez makes surprise return from Cuba

Mon Feb 18, 2013 4:57pm EST
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By Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis

CARACAS (Reuters) - 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 nation.

The middle-of-the-night homecoming implies some medical improvement - at least enough to handle a flight of several hours - and will again fire up supporters with hope that the socialist leader could return to active rule.

Yet there was no new information on Chavez's health nor images of his arrival, and aides say the 58-year-old's condition remains "complex."

Chavez could be returning to govern behind the scenes, or may be hoping to ease political tensions in Venezuela and smooth a transition to Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

Chavez has urged voters to back Maduro should he have to stand down and a new presidential election be held.

"We have returned to the Venezuelan fatherland. Thank you, my God! Thank you, my beloved people! We will continue the treatment here," Chavez said on Twitter after flying in.

Maduro said Chavez arrived at about 2:30 a.m. (0700 GMT) from Havana and was taken to a military hospital in Caracas.

Until photos were published of him on Friday, the president had not been seen by the public since a six-hour operation in Cuba on December 11.   Continued...

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez cheer outside the military hospital after his surprise return to Caracas February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva