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Mar 17, 2012, 04.26 AM IST
VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ:Venezuela's Chavez heading home from Cuba
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday he was returning home after cancer surgery in Cuba that has left him convalescing ahead of October's re-election bid.
Though Chavez's return reasserts his leadership, questions remain over whether the radiation treatment he faces will leave him fit enough to campaign for what is turning into the biggest electoral fight of his 13-year rule.
"We're taking off right now from Jose Marti International Airport, heading south, heading to the fatherland! Thank God!" Chavez, 57, said via Twitter from Cuba where he underwent a second round of surgery at the end of February.
In June, Cuban doctors removed a pelvic abscess and a cancerous tumor. Following those procedures, Chavez said he was "completely recovered." But after a recurrence of the disease, he returned to Cuba last month to have a second malignant tumor removed.
"We had lunch with Fidel. He sent a gigantic hug to the whole Venezuelan people," Chavez said in a series of Tweets before he departed for Venezuela, referring to his mentor and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
"We will live and we will conquer!" he added, in what has become his signature slogan since he was diagnosed with cancer.
Little is known about what kind of cancer the president has or how serious it is. But medical experts say the radiation treatment he faces could take a heavy physical toll.
Chavez has denied rumors the disease has spread.
Side-effects of radiation may slow down Chavez's traditionally gregarious, on-the-street style, just as his 39-year-old opponent, Henrique Capriles, is gearing up his own campaign.
Capriles, a former state governor, won a strong mandate in a primary election last month and is expected to contrast his energetic and youthful image with Chavez's convalescence.
Opinion polls show Chavez, in power since 1999 , still has the edge over Capriles in voter enthusiasm, although roughly a third of the electorate is still undecided.
(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Stacey Joyce)
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