CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday he will be home from Cuba in a week and start radiation therapy for cancer that could leave him weakened ahead of his re-election bid on October 7.
Chatting for more than two hours in a televised address from Havana, where he is recovering from a third surgery to treat cancer in his pelvic area, Chavez seemed eager to show he is fully in command of the government despite his illness.
Flanked by some of his cabinet ministers at the head of a long table, he laughed and sang songs in an apparent effort to squelch rumors he has a life-threatening condition like a spreading cancer.
“Today we are in the thirteenth day post-operation, with completely normal vital signs, a good general state of health and with no complications, good scarring, daily monitoring, rehabilitation and long walks,” he said, reading off a document with details about his cancer treatment.
“In the coming weeks we will start the already announced phase of radiation therapy,” Chavez said wearing a windbreaker with the colors of the Venezuelan flag.
During his recovery he said he was reading many books, quoting from a thick volume by Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros.
Since arriving in Cuba on February 24, Chavez has been firing off tweets, meeting with foreign leaders and phoning state TV, in what could be preparation for a triumphant homecoming.
“God willing, next Sunday afternoon I will be in Caracas,” the 57-year-old leader said at the end of the pre-recorded broadcast.
In June he made an emotional return from his first round of surgery in Cuba, surprising the country with an unannounced dawn arrival in Venezuela and shortly thereafter waved to tearful supporters from a balcony at the presidential palace.
This homecoming will likely be less dramatic.
Last month he contradicted his own upbeat assurances that he was “completely cured,” announcing he would once again have to go under the knife to remove a reappearance of the cancer in the same pelvic area.
Chavez linked up via satellite with his vice president and other ministers back in Venezuela presiding over the inaugurations of government projects, like a chicken farm jointly owned with an Argentine company.
He approved the issue of a bond in local currency for some $2.325 million due between 2015 and 2017 to spend in the agricultural sector with the participation of a government fund and state oil company PDVSA.
According to analysts, those bonds will be bought by local banks to replace government-mandated quotas of agriculture sector loans, which banks have been struggling to meet.
Venezuela’s leftist government is on a massive spending push, funded by oil dollars from the coffers of South America’s largest crude exporter, to win over poor voters with popular welfare programs, including job training and new housing units.
The side effects from radiation may slow down Chavez’s gregarious on-the-street campaigning style - where he is known to meet with recipients of the state’s largess in person - just as he faces a formidable race against 39-year old opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
He may instead have to fall back on “virtual campaigning” through frequent Twitter posts, pre-recorded televised speeches and phone calls to state television.
Little is known about what kind of cancer the president has or how serious it is, but medical experts say the radiation treatment could take a heavy physical toll.
Capriles, a former state governor, won a strong mandate in a primary election last month and is expected to contrast his energetic and youthful image with Chavez’s convalescence.
Opinion polls show Chavez, in power since 1999 and omnipresent in the media, still has the edge over Capriles in voter enthusiasm, although roughly a third of the electorate is still undecided.
With no clear successor to carry on Chavez’s “21st Century revolution,” Venezuelans will be closely watching for signs he has the strength to run a campaign and rule for another six-year term after 13 years in power.
Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga and Mario Naranjo; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Paul Simao