Monday, February 18, 2013

President Hugo Chávez Returns to Venezuela (UPDATED)

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez returned to his homeland seventy days after he traveled to Cuba for cancer surgery and treatment.

His return was announced via a series of messages on his Twitter account early on Monday morning.  “We've arrived once again in our Venezuelan homeland. Thank you, my God!! Thank you, beloved nation!! We will continue our treatment here,” read one tweet.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro subsequently said on television that Chávez arrived at 2:30 AM and was taken to a Caracas military hospital in Caracas where he would continue his recovery.

Thousands of “euphoric” Chavistas took to the streets to celebrate the return of the president who left Venezuela on December 10th and underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery the next day.

“I've been here since 5 this morning to support the president. He is the hope of our people,” said one Chávez supporter who gathered along with hundreds of others outside the Dr. Carlos Arvelo military hospital.

A communique from the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática opposition bloc called on the government to be more transparent and “tell the truth to the Venezulan people”.  In addition, opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Henrique Capriles welcomed Chávez’ return to Venezuela and hoped that it “should not serve to justify the unjustifiable, to cover up things that are happening.”

Why did Chávez return to Veneuela?  Oen potential answer could be that he plans to undergo his inauguartion that was delayed by Venezuela top court last month.  The AFP cited a “Supreme Court source” who claimed that that the judges are waiting for permission from Chávez and his medical team to swear him in.

Another possibility may be that the government had been feeling some pressure from student demonstrators. Protests by university students against Chávez have occurred numerous times during his fourteen years of rule.  The latest action at the Cuban embassy in Caracas was called off this morning:

“Today from the Cuban embassy we’ve told the government that over the past five days we’ve gone on our knees urging the Cuban regime…to return our president,” said Villca Fernández in a press conference.

Approximately twenty students from different universities came together in front of the Cuban embassy seeking information over the health of Chávez and to reject Cuban “interference in Venezuelan political affairs.

Chávez' return to Caracas comes days after the Venezuelan government released what they claimed were the first photos of the ailing president since his surgery. Officials have yet to release any images of Chávez after arriving in Caracas.  But a nurse at the Arvelo hospital told state TV that Chávez walked into the clinic and was not “in a wheelchair, with tubes or undergoing an invasive procedure.”

Update (6:00 PM): Numerous Latin American figures expressed their satisfaction with the return of Chávez to Venezuela.

"Go rest and recover as quick as possible because Venezuela and your friends in Latin America need you," said newly reelected Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

In a letter published via the Cuban press, ex-ruler Fidel Castro his "satisfaction that (Chávez) can return to that piece of American land that he loves and be with the public who supports him."

Argentine foreign minister Héctor Timerman noted that Chávez returning is "vital to Venezuela's democracy" and it's "fundamental that Chávez continues to promote a more unified Latin America."

Timerman's Brazilian counterpart, Antonio Patriota, was "satisfied" with the return of Chávez and also highlighted "productive" talks with Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua.

An unnamed U.S. State Department source reportedly warned that "Should (Chávez) not be able to execute the duties of office, the Venezuelan constitution requires an election to select a new president.

Update (February 19, 2013): Hours after President Hugo Chávez returned to Venezuela, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced new economic mesasures against black market currency trading would soon take effect.  

"The corrupt right wing wants to damage the republic by attacking its currency," said Maduro at a meeting of ministers on Monday night.

Meanwhile, a poll released on Tuesday showed that most Venezuelans would back Maduro if new elections were to be held.  Fifty percent of respondents backed the man who Chávez chose last year as his possible successor, while thirty-six percent supported opposition leader and ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.    

Chávez' return has led to the cancellation of a visit from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, which would have been the first bilateral trip to Venezuela in twenty-seven years.  

Baird was to have met with Maduro and other senior government officials as well as figures in the opposition.

Video Source– YouTube via Associated Press

Online Sources including Updates – Hugo Chávez’ Twitter account, Diario Vasco, BBC News, El Universal, The Guardian,, The Latin Americanist, El Nacional, Reuters, GlobalPost, teleSUR, La Voz del Interior, El Espectador, BBC Mundo, NBC News, CBC News, Businessweek

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