CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s surprise return home on Monday after cancer surgery in Cuba restores his political dominance over the OPEC nation, but does not provide clear signs of how quickly he will recover.
The flamboyant and unpredictable leftist declared he was “fine” despite continued speculation he may have to undergo months of treatment that could leave him debilitated in the run-up to the next presidential election in 2012.
* Chavez’s return allows him to reassert his authority on a nation he has dominated during his 12 years in power and which was politically adrift in his absence. It also allows him to be present for the bicentennial anniversary of Venezuela’s independence from Spain on July 5, an event central to the image of his self-styled revolution inspired by independence hero Simon Bolivar.
On Monday afternoon he plans to greet supporters from the balcony of his presidential palace, where he generally makes appearances following his frequent electoral victories.
* His return does not answer bigger questions about his health, such as whether or not his cancer is in advanced stages or if he will need continued treatment that will leave him weak. His cancer diagnosis will almost certainly prevent him from maintaining his traditional governing style centered on long-winded speeches, nonstop public appearances, and intense involvement at every level of state affairs. It may also make it more difficult for him to carry out his usual grueling campaigns as the nation counts down toward the 2012 elections. Chavez had a cancerous tumor removed in a Havana hospital, but it is unknown whether malignant cells spread — or metastasized — to other parts.
* Financial markets may react negatively to Chavez’s return after having rallied on his cancer diagnosis. Venezuelan bonds jumped to more than a one-year high the day after he announced his condition on hopes that his illness force him to step down. Investors think his departure would mean a transition toward a market economy from the current state-centric model, though analysts point out it could also bring in a period of political chaos. Venezuelan markets are closed on Monday and Tuesday, which are both national holidays.
* His allies are relieved at the return of Chavez, whose authority is crucial to maintaining an often fractious alliance. None of his closest confidants, including Vice President Elias Jaua who has been the public face of the government in his absence, are seen as having the charisma or authority to control the sometimes warring factions. The physical presence of Chavez should be enough to ward of in-fighting, unless he shows serious deterioration.
* His return will not help opposition leaders resolve their dilemma over how to respond to his cancer diagnosis. The fractured and often bumbling opposition will likely seek some way to take advantage of the first real sign of weakness Chavez has displayed. But they have not wanted to appear to be celebrating his ill health, even though for nearly a decade they have been defined by their vitriolic attacks on the president. Opposition candidates will face off at primaries scheduled for February, to pick a unity candidate ahead of the presidential ballot expected in December 2012. The current favorite to win the opposition ticket is youthful state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski.
* Chavez’s return will be taken as good news in Cuba and various other Caribbean and Central American nations that depend on the OPEC nation for energy and financial assistance. It will also be welcomed by leftist or anti-U.S. leaders around the world, who have found in Chavez a high-profile critic of Washington and an adversary of global capitalism.
Editing by Kieran Murray