Caracas – President Hugo Chavez acknowledged that he has not yet won his battle against cancer, but said that he together with the Venezuelan people will defeat the illness.
"No one should think that my presence here on this July 4 means we've won the battle. No. But we've begun climbing back uphill, we've begun to defeat the ailment that incubated in my body," he told thousands of cheering supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace hours after his surprise return from Havana.
The 56-year-old Chavez complained of abdominal pain during an official visit to Cuba early last month, and emergency surgery to remove an abscess led to the discovery of cancer, though he did not disclose the seriousness of his condition until last week.
Wearing a military uniform and a red beret, he revealed Monday that on June 20 he had a cancerous tumor removed and was in intensive care for several days, but did not say what kind of cancer he has.
"This battle we will also win, this new battle we will win and we'll win it together," the president said in a 30-minute speech, during which he showed the crucifix that he brandished on April 13, 2002, on his return to Caracas after loyal military commanders thwarted an attempted coup.
The president, flanked by two of his four children, said that the operation to remove the tumor took more than six hours.
"The days we spent there were not easy," he said in his speech before a crowd ecstatic to see their leader once more.
He said that he has gone beyond the first stage of recovery and is now entering the second stage of complementary treatment, for which he asked his followers for understanding and said that he must now follow a strict plan "step by step."
"We will live, we will overcome. My heartfelt thanks, love is repaid with love," he said.
Chavez's words were the climax of a day that began in the wee hours with his surprise return to the country after nearly a month in Cuba.
His return occurred as Venezuela prepared to celebrate Tuesday the bicentennial of the nation's independence from Spain, but Chavez told supporters he is not likely to take part in the official festivities.
There he underwent an operation for a pelvic abscess, and in the process of recuperation, a tumor was found that was removed "in time" and "completely," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said last weekend.
The president revealed his illness last Thursday in a message to the nation, after which several photos and videos were released of meetings with Cuba's Fidel Castro, family members and aides, but there was no announcement of when he would return to Venezuela.