CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has returned from medical treatment in Cuba, ending weeks of silence-fueled speculation about the health of the cancer-stricken leader.
The news echoes Chavez’s histrionic reappearance in Venezuela after first seeking cancer treatment in Havana in June 2011. In the meantime, he has skillfully played the illness to his political advantage.
"Where's the party?" the president joked as he stepped off the plane in the early hours of Friday morning.
Details of the cancer have still not been announced by Chavez and this, in such a politically polarized country, has caused much speculation.
One prominent blogger, Francisco Toro, wrote Thursday: "So Chavez’s wholesale disappearance for 3-weeks+ has finally convinced me: the guy’s probably dying now. There’s no other way to make sense of it."
Bonds have rallied as investors look forward to a more market-friendly government. One market analyst sent a note to investors Thursday entitled "Chavez Death, Succession and PDVSA Bonds."
But, yet again, the analysts have been proven wrong — at least for the moment.
Handily winning re-election in October, Chavez tagged another six years onto his tenure atop his oil-rich South American country that hit the 14-year mark this week.
A Chavez death, many observers now contend, is the opposition's best hope after its presidential defeat. If he were to die, the constitution states a new election be called within 30 days.
The president arrived in Cuba 10 days ago for physiotherapy and hyperbaric oxygen treatment, familiar to divers suffering the bends, which can help repair healthy cells damaged by radiation treatment.
The return may boost the ruling leftist party's standing in regional elections coming up on Dec 16. However, these are generally less about the persona, or health, of president and the opposition is expected to fare better than in October, when candidate Henrique Capriles garnered 44 percent of the vote.
“What we’ve achieved is no small thing, but what we’ve got to do is much bigger,” Chavez said.
Chavez is due to inaugurate his next term in Caracas on Jan. 10, 2013.
Below is a Venezuelan television report (in Spanish) of the president's return.