President Hugo Chavez returned to Venezuela early Monday after spending more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed a Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Havana.
Arriving unannounced in the wee hours, he went directly from the airport to a military hospital in Caracas to begin the next phase of what has already been a 20-month-long battle against the illness.
“We have returned to the Venezuelan homeland. Thank you, God! Thank you, beloved people! We will continue the treatment here,” Chavez, 58, said on Twitter.
The doctors who have overseen Chavez’s care since the cancer was first diagnosed in June 2011 accompanied the leftist head of state to Caracas, Vice President Nicolas Maduro told state television.
The president’s return marks a defeat for the “voices of doom” in Venezuela who accused the government of lying about Chavez’s condition, Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas said.
It was just days ago that Venezuelan authorities released the first photos of Chavez in two months.
The images show Chavez, clad in a Venezuelan military academy warm-up suit, lying in a hospital bed reading the Feb. 14 edition of Cuban Communist Party daily Granma with his two adult daughters at his side.
The president has undergone four operations as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate the cancer.
In office since 1999, Chavez was re-elected last October and is due to serve until January 2019.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court said Chavez could miss the scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration and be sworn-in later and that Maduro could continue as acting head of state pending the president’s recovery.