Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez made a surprise homecoming on Monday after cancer surgery in Cuba and declared himself fine despite speculation he may still require lengthy treatment.
Here I am, home and happy! Good morning, my beloved Venezuela, a bubbly Chavez said, punching his fist in the air and singing a folk song after touching down in the early hours. Now I'm going to get some rest.
With their 'Comandante' back on Venezuelan soil, groups of delirious supporters took to the streets of Caracas within minutes, chanting: He's back! He's back!
Chavez's return changes the political dynamics once again in Venezuela, where politicians on all sides had been bracing for a protracted months-long absence of the man who has dominated the country’s politics for the last 12 years.
The famously unpredictable 56-year-old president jetted in just in time for two days of celebrations of Venezuela's 200th anniversary of independence from Spain.
Many Venezuelans had thought Chavez's convalescence after two operations last month in Cuba -- one to remove a cancerous tumor -- would keep him in Havana for weeks, possibly months.
State media showed video footage of Chavez bidding farewell to Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana and then being greeted by ebullient ministers at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas.
I'm fine. I feel well, Chavez said.
I'm back at the epicenter of Bolivar, he added, in reference to his idol, Simon Bolivar, a hero of Venezuela's and South America's fight for independence from Spanish rule.
Despite euphoria among supporters, Chavez's exact condition remains unclear, and he may still face lengthy treatment in Venezuela. A military hospital was prepared for his arrival.
Chavez said it was the start of the return, implying to some analysts that he may stay low profile in Venezuela or even return to Cuba for further cycles of treatment.
Sounding ecstatic, Vice President Elias Jaua called on supporters to go to the Miraflores presidential palace Monday afternoon to give Chavez a welcome reception.