CARACAS, Venezuela — Hugo Chávez's surprise return from Cuba after cancer treatment was a classic maneuver for a president who excels at showmanship. It's also likely to give him a political boost as supporters rally around their ailing leader.
The 56-year-old president projected a strong, vibrant image as he stepped off a plane early Monday. Smiling, he hugged his vice president, broke into song and later raised a fist in triumph.
"It's the beginning of my return!" he declared.
Hours later, he rallied thousands of supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace, telling them: "We will also win this battle for life."
Wearing fatigues and the red beret of his army days, Chávez revealed that he had been in intensive care in Cuba and held up a crucifix. "Christ is with us," he said.
The crowd chanted: "Oh, no! Chávez won't go!"
Despite the confident image, doubts about his future re-emerged as he suggested that he still isn't ready for a full comeback.
He told state television by telephone that he doesn't expect to attend celebrations today marking the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence from Spain. Normally, Chávez would be front and center at the patriotic event, which includes a military parade.
Unanswered questions about Chávez's health abound. He has said he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, and his foreign minister said it was extracted from the same part of the "pelvic region" where Chávez had an abscess removed in Cuba on June 11. Chávez hasn't said what type of cancer is involved nor whether he is receiving chemotherapy, radiation or another treatment.