President Hugo Chavez led an energetic homecoming celebration on Saturday, rallying thousands of supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace after three weeks in Cuba for cancer surgery.
Mr. Chavez turned the event into a campaign rally, vowing to win re-election in the Oct. 7 presidential vote and demanding unity from his followers. Returning to the combativeness that has characterized much of his 13-year presidency, Mr. Chavez insulted his opponents and denounced a State Governor who recently broke ranks with his party as a “traitor to the revolution.”
The president referred to his health only briefly, saying he will start radiation therapy treatment in the coming days “in order to attack any new threat.”
“This cancer can’t beat Chavez either!” he shouted to the crowd during the hour-long speech.
“We have to work very hard, be very united, very alert, very conscious of the risks that always exist when you’re going to confront people who always fight dirty, and behind them there’s also a lot of power the Yankee (U.S.) empire, the CIA,” Chavez said. “Big transnational companies are behind the campaign of the Venezuelan right. ... We have to be watchful, because it’s not just any battle. No, the survival of the Bolivarian Revolution is at stake.”
Mr. Chavez waved, blew kisses and raised a fist when he appeared on the balcony, then took the microphone and sang along with a Venezuelan folk song while a band played.
“Long live Venezuela!” Mr. Chavez told the crowd, flanked by his aides. He reiterated that his latest cancer surgery in Cuba was successful, and said he feels a “commitment to you all to live.”
“We know the world is worried about President Chavez,” said Carlos Morgado, a 59-year-old artist who has painted murals of the president. But Mr. Morgado said he thinks Chavez is looking strong and “he’s also capable of combating death ... and beating death.”
Mr. Chavez came down firmly against Monagas state Gov. Jose Gregorio Briceno, who was suspended from Chavez’s party on Wednesday after making critical remarks about the president of the National Assembly.
“He’s a counterrevolutionary,” Mr. Chavez said. “I knew that was going to happen.”
The Venezuelan leader arrived home on Friday night looking haggard but expressing optimism that he will overcome cancer.
Mr. Chavez spent three weeks in Cuba, leaving many Venezuelans wondering about his long-term prospects and about how his health will evolve ahead of the election. Mr. Chavez has kept secret some details of his illness, such as the type of cancer, spurring speculation.
The president has said his Feb. 26 surgery in Cuba removed a tumour from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumour was removed in June.
After he was diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Chavez underwent an initial surgery in June that removed a tumour the size of a baseball.
Mr. Chavez has described the most recent tumour as measuring about 2 centimetres (0.8 inches). He has declined to identify the precise location where the tumours appeared.
Mr. Chavez said he planned to rest on Sunday. “I’m taking care of myself,” he said.
“That’s another tale they haul around on the opposition side, that I’m dying, that I’m not going to endure the campaign,” Mr. Chavez said.
Some of the theories being tossed about, Mr. Chavez said, include “that Elias is already the successor but the soldiers don’t accept him; Rangel Silva has his command with Diosdado.”
“They have a whole soap opera,” Mr. Chavez said, referring to the opposition. “We’re going to show them what revolutionary unity is!”
The 57-year-old leader has been in office since 1999 leading his socialist-oriented Bolivarian Revolution movement, named after 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar. Mr. Chavez is seeking another six-year term in the October presidential vote.
“We welcome home the government’s candidate,” Mr. Capriles said while making door-to-door pre-campaign visits in Aragua state. “I wish him good health. He shouldn’t forget that in this contest ahead, at least from our part, what we’re doing is going house-to-house. It’s not insulting anybody.”
Mr. Chavez called the opposition “the bourgeoisie” and the “stateless and irrational right.” He referred to Mr. Capriles as the candidate of “the Yankees.”
“The beating we’re going to give the Venezuelan right, the beating we’re going to give them, that beating is going to be memorable,” Mr. Chavez said.