August 14, 2011 / 3:30 PM / 8 years ago

Cheerful Chavez returns to Venezuela after chemo

* Venezuelan leader arrives shortly after midnight

* Chavez jokes and blows kisses on tarmac

CARACAS, Aug 14 (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez returned to Venezuela in the early hours of Sunday after undergoing a second round of chemotherapy in Cuba, looking strong and cheerful as he stepped out of his airplane in Caracas.

Images on state television showed the socialist leader arriving with his daughter. Wearing his trademark red beret, he stood unaided on the tarmac as he chatted with several government ministers and officials.

Joking, laughing and blowing kisses to his followers, he mused that the political opposition “has gone crazy. They’re obsessed with us and the military.”

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!”

Chavez stunned the South American OPEC nation in June when he announced he had cancer, raising doubts about his fitness to run in elections next year.

But the 57-year-old former soldier vows to push ahead with his socialist transformation of Venezuela and says he expects a full recovery.

Chavez has flown to Havana twice for chemotherapy where his close friend and mentor Fidel Castro has watched over him. Before that, on June 20, he underwent surgery on the communist-led island to remove a baseball-sized tumor.

On Saturday, he wrote on Twitter that he was with the former Cuban leader to celebrate his 85th birthday. “Viva Fidel!” he said.

Chavez has refused to tell Venezuelans exactly what type of cancer he has, but has appeared on TV balding from the treatment and says his doctors forbid him from direct contact with the public because his immune system is weak. (Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel; Writing by Louise Egan; Editing by Eric Beech)

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