Cancer-hit Chavez 'prays for life'

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has returned home nearly three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba, saying he is praying for life.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has returned home nearly three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba, saying he is praying for life.

After stepping off the plane in Caracas, Mr Chavez smiled and waved but also spoke soberly about the path ahead in his struggle.

“I lift up a prayer... in this battle for life,” he said in a televised speech on the tarmac. “We will live and we will win.”

Mr Chavez came home as many Venezuelans are wondering about his long-term prospects and about how his health will evolve ahead of the country’s October 7 presidential election.

He has kept secret some details of his illness, such as the type of cancer, spurring speculation about how his condition might affect the country’s political landscape.

His close allies have assured Venezuelans that there is no Plan B and that left-winger Mr Chavez is the only leader of his movement heading into the elections.

Mr Chavez was greeted by his vice president and cabinet ministers and soldiers standing at attention. He stepped down the stairs at the plane hand-in-hand with a daughter and his mother.

The president has said an operation on February 26 in Cuba removed a tumour from the same location in the pelvic region where another tumour was removed in June. He has said he is recovering smoothly.

Mr Chavez has said his cancer was first diagnosed during a visit to Cuba last June. Initial surgery removed a tumour the size of a baseball.

He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy following initial surgeries last year, but announced in February that he was returning to Cuba for surgery to have a lesion removed.

Mr Chavez, 57, has described the most recent tumour as measuring about 2cm across. He has declined to identify the precise location of the cancer and plans to undergo radiation therapy, although it is unclear how soon that will begin.

He announced his return on Twitter, saying he was at Havana’s airport and “right now we’re taking off”.

Another message said Cuban president Raul Castro “came to see us off at the airport”.

Mr Chavez is running for re-election this year, seeking another six-year term in the October national elections. His rival, 39-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles, has criticised Mr Chavez’s handling of his cancer, saying that if he were president his health would “be a matter of public knowledge”.

Mr Chavez flew to Cuba for his most recent surgery on February 24, and his absence from the public spotlight since then has sparked speculation about his health. Mr Chavez, who has been in office since 1999, has vowed to recover and win re-election.

He last appeared on Venezuelan television Monday night in a video showing him walking with two of his daughters in a garden in Havana.

The president sought to keep up with government business while in Cuba. Last weekend, his cabinet ministers were in Havana for a televised meeting where Chavez reviewed government projects ranging from subway expansion work to public housing complexes.

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