UPDATE 3-Venezuela's Chavez back from Cuba medical treatment

Diego Ore and Marianna Parraga
Reuters Middle East

* Socialist president had been unseen publicly since Nov. 15

* Arrival counters rumors he was in grave condition

* Typically theatrical arrival for unpredictable Chavez

CARACAS, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez

made a theatrical return from Cuba on Friday after medical

treatment, walking and joking in a first public appearance for

three weeks that quashed rumors he may have been at death's


"I'm happy and enthused to be back again," Chavez said after

flying in overnight to the delight of supporters.

"So, where's the party?" Chavez joked, in festive mood as he

chatted with ministers after walking unaided down the steps from

his plane at the international airport outside Caracas.

The 58-year-old socialist leader has had three cancer

operations in Cuba since mid-2011 and returned to Havana ten

days ago to receive "hyperbaric oxygenation" - a treatment

normally used to alleviate bone decay from radiation therapy.

But speculation was rife he may have suffered a recurrence

of the disease.

One local journalist said he was confined to a wheelchair.

Earlier this year, Chavez declared himself "completely

cured" and went on to comfortably win re-election in October.

Amid a barrage of rumors, officials had maintained his

latest trip to Cuba was just a scheduled follow-up to the

radiation therapy he underwent in the first half of 2012.

Supporters celebrated the return of the man who has

dominated the South American OPEC nation since he first won

election in 1998. He wore a multi-colored track suit and arrived

with relatives and aides including vice president Nicolas


"YEEESSSS!!!!," tweeted Eva Golinger, an American-Venezuelan

lawyer close to the Chavez government.

"Chavez is back and has shown up all the rumor-mongers,

necrophiliacs, gossips and ill-thinkers. Welcome commander."


On Friday, Cuba's Communist Party newspaper showed President

Raul Castro bidding farewell to Chavez at Havana airport.

Chavez's return gives him a week to campaign for Venezuela's

Dec. 16 state elections, where the ruling Socialist Party is

hoping to use the momentum of the presidential victory to win

back some opposition-held governorships.

The opposition, however, is hoping that discontent with

grassroots issues like crime, power-cuts and cronyism will

enable it to at least hold the seven states it controls out of

Venezuela's 23.

Speculation is unlikely to end over Chavez's health, given

the scant details given by the government.

Doctors say hyperbaric oxygenation is a treatment normally

given in different sessions over several months, meaning he

could return again to Cuba soon.

They also say nobody can declare themselves completely cured

of cancer until a couple of years have passed without a


The president had dearly wanted to attend the Mercosur trade

bloc summit in Brazil on Friday, to celebrate Venezuela's entry,

so his absence from that maintained a question mark over just

how well he is.

Opponents criticize Chavez for secrecy over his health and

preferring Cuban doctors to Venezuela.

He has chosen to be treated in Havana due to his friendship

with Cuba's past and present leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, plus

the discretion he is guaranteed thanks to the Communist

government's strict controls on information.

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