CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived back home in Caracas early Friday after 10 days of medical treatment in Cuba, but his failure to show up at a regional meeting in Brazil raised new questions about his health.
State television showed images of Chavez arriving at Caracas' airport and walking down the steps of the presidential jet wearing a track suit. Chavez smiled and laughed heartily as he chatted with members of his Cabinet including Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
Chavez, who has been fighting an unspecified type of cancer during the past year and half, for unexplained reasons skipped a Friday meeting in Brasilia with leaders of the South American trade bloc Mercosur. The Brazilian government said that Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez would instead be representing his country at the meeting -- the first since Venezuela became a full member.
Chavez traveled to Cuba on the night of Nov. 27 after announcing plans to undergo hyperbaric oxygen treatment in Havana. The Venezuelan leader has spent much of the past 18 months battling cancer in the pelvic area; he said several months ago that he was cancer-free.
While in Cuba, he kept a low profile and did not speak on television. Chavez last appeared publicly during a televised meeting on Nov. 15 in Caracas, and his long absence had renewed speculation among some Venezuelans that his health might be taking a turn for the worse.
Chavez appeared vigorous as he spoke on television upon his arrival in the Venezuelan capital before 3 a.m. Friday. He didn't mention his health, instead saying he was glad to be home.
"I'm very happy, as you all can see, to be arriving here again," Chavez said. "Very happy."
Chavez noted that Thursday marked two months since his Oct. 7 re-election win. Addressing Maduro and recalling other election victories, Chavez said: "Look at how we've come, Nicolas, from victory to victory."
Chavez hasn't given details recently about the hyperbaric oxygen treatment, during which patients breathe pure oxygen while in a pressurized, sealed chamber. The treatment's value is well-established for treating burns and some other medical conditions, and to aid wound healing and help repair bone and tissue damaged by radiation treatments.
The 58-year-old president first underwent cancer surgery in Cuba in June 2011 and later underwent another surgery in February. He has also undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and has since said that tests show he's recovered.
Throughout his treatments, Chavez has kept many details of his illness secret, including the type of cancer and the precise location of the tumors.
Chavez said his departure from Cuba had been delayed by a conversation with Fidel Castro, with whom he had been discussing poetry.
The Venezuelan leader also referred to the country's upcoming state gubernatorial elections on Dec. 16, saying: "We're eight days away from the next victory."