CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez returned to Venezuela in the early hours of Sunday after undergoing a second round of chemotherapy in Cuba, sounding recharged and combative in a telephone conversation with state television.
Chavez said he felt fewer side effects this time from the treatment and that his doctors will decide soon whether he needs a third session and also possibly radiation therapy.
“The first time it hit me a bit harder than the second time. The toxic impact was less. There was no irritation, burning, nausea,” he said.
“Voracious appetite. Fidel has me eating fish,” referring to his host, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Chavez stunned the South American OPEC nation in June when he announced he had an undisclosed type of cancer, raising doubts about his fitness to run in elections next year.
The opposition sees the vote as their best chance yet of ending the garrulous leader’s rule, but the 57-year-old former soldier vowed to bounce back so he can push ahead with his socialist transformation of Venezuela.
Chavez said doctors have found no malignant cells in his body and say he has made an “impressive” recovery from surgery in June to remove a baseball-sized tumor.
Chavez underwent the surgery and the two chemotherapy sessions in Cuba where his close friend and mentor Castro has watched over him.
Despite his upbeat health report, Chavez reminded Venezuelans not to expect him to return to his normal frenzied pace of activity anytime soon as his body’s defenses are weak.
He said he would heed the advice of Castro, who turned 85 on Saturday, not to declare victory in the health battle just yet.
“Fidel is actually like the chief doctor in all this. When we said goodbye he said: ‘Chavez, you’re leaving, don’t forget this, you can’t let yourself get carried away on impulse ... you might start to convince yourself that this is all over and the people might believe it’s all over. No, it’s not over.'”
Television images showed Chavez, balding from the chemotherapy underneath his trademark red beret, stepping off the plane at the Caracas airport during the night holding his daughter’s hand. He later stood unaided on the tarmac as he joked and laughed with government ministers and blew kisses to his followers.
On Twitter he was jubilant. “Good morning, beloved homeland!” he wrote. “Here we are in full return. What a beautiful full moon to meet us at midnight!”
But later on television, his hard-edged rhetoric returned as he attacked the opposition, accusing them of trying to trigger foreign intervention in Venezuela by spreading false rumors that he would use violence to hold onto power.
Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel; Writing by Louise Egan; Editing by Eric Beech