Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s first words after emerging from surgery were “How are my people?” according to officials, who proclaimed that the ailing leader is on the road to recovery.
Venezuela’s Information Minister Ernesto Villegas told reporters that Chavez spoke with family members immediately after an operation to control bleeding after his cancer surgery earlier this week, and that his recovery was proceeding “satisfactorily.”
Although Chavez, who underwent lengthy cancer surgery Tuesday in Cuba, faces a complex recovery process, he is “meeting the post-operative protocol in satisfactory fashion,” the minister said in nationally broadcast remarks.
Minutes after Villegas’s comments, Chavez spokeswoman Teresa Maniglia wrote on Twitter: “‘How are my people?’ was the first thing Chavez said today when he spoke with his family for the first time.”
Chavez, 58 and re-elected to a third term in October, announced to the nation a week ago that he had suffered a recurrence of the cancer he thought he had beaten, and would have to return to Cuba for surgery.
The revelation marks his third brush in the past year and a half with the disease, each time requiring extended stays in Cuba.
Aides this week said Chavez experienced “complications” from this most recent surgery including bleeding that now appears to be under control.
Chavez is scheduled to be inaugurated to a third presidential term on January 10. But the country now is on tenterhooks to see if the outspoken, formerly tireless leader will remain their president, become incapacitated or worse.
He has named foreign minister and vice president Nicolas Maduro as his both his temporary replacement and handpicked successor.
The latest turn in Chavez’s 18-month-long health saga comes less than a month before he was to be sworn in to another six-year term, and just days before Sunday’s regional elections, which are seen as a key political test.
Until last week, when Chavez stunned the nation with news that his cancer had returned, he appears to have banked on making a full recovery, despite recurring rounds of debilitating radiation treatment and chemotherapy since he was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.
Chavez claimed a year later that he was cancer free before embarking on his successful but arduous reelection campaign.
Venezuela has never clearly stated what type of cancer Chavez has or what organs affected, but doctors said they removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from his pelvis last year.
State television has also been broadcasting spots praising Chavez’s accomplishments, as well as pro-government documentaries.
The state governor whom Chavez defeated in the October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, accused the government of using the president’s illness rally sympathy votes in Sunday’s regional elections.
Chavez’s PSUV party is hoping to sweep the regional polls to choose 23 governors.