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Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Chavez returns to Venezuela

His return rekindles debates about future of leadership in country

  • Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez celebrate his return to the country at Bolivar square in Caracas, Venezuela on Monday.

    Associated Press

    Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez celebrate his return to the country at Bolivar square in Caracas, Venezuela on Monday.

  • A supporter of Venezuela' s President Hugo Chavez holds up a sign that reads in Spanish "Love with love my president" as she attends a celeb...

    A supporter of Venezuela' s President Hugo Chavez holds up a sign that reads in Spanish "Love with love my president" as she attends a celebration marking his return to his country at Bolivar square in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. Chavez returned to Venezuela early Monday after more than two months of treatment in Cuba following cancer surgery, his government said, triggering street celebrations by supporters who welcomed him home while he remained out of sight at Caracas' military hospital. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez was spirited into Venezuela in the pre-dawn hours Monday, sending his followers pouring into the streets but leaving many wondering what comes next for Latin America's fourth-largest economy.
Chavez, 58, returned home early Monday without warning and no fanfare after spending more than two months incommunicado in a Cuban hospital recovering from cancer surgery.
But his homecoming yielded little information about his state of health and is likely to revive speculation about who should be at the helm of the nation.
"We want to see him and we want him to tell Venezuela what his decision is," Omar Avila, the secretary general of the opposition Vision Venezuela political party, said in a statement. "Is he capable of governing the country or if he is going to step down due to the delicate state of his health?"
If Chavez were to resign or die it would trigger new elections within 30 days. Before he traveled to Cuba Dec. 10, the president asked the nation to rally behind Vice President Nicolas Maduro if new elections were needed. But since then, his followers have never acknowledged that the ailing comandante won't assume power.
Even so, some sort of transition is probably imminent, said Robert Bottome, an analyst and director of the Caracas-based Veneconomy publishing group.
While Chavez may have been brought home because he truly is recovering, Bottome said the government's thinking might also be that "he's deteriorating so fast we no longer have freedom of action, so let's bring him back right now before it's too late."
After winning an additional six-year term in October, the socialist firebrand missed his scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration as he battled his disease in Cuba. Even so, the Supreme Court ruled that he remained in charge and the ceremony could take place anytime he returned.

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