Chavez reappears, leads cabinet meeting

2012-05-23 12:01

Caracas - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reappeared on Tuesday in a live television broadcast, the first time he has been seen in public view since returning from cancer treatment in Cuba almost two weeks ago.

Chavez spoke in a strong voice and did not appear tired during the broadcast, which lasted more than two hours. He made no reference to his health, of which few details are known.

The socialist leader's uncharacteristic disappearances have become longer and more frequent this year. They have fuelled speculation his condition has worsened and may complicate a re-election bid in October.

Chavez, aged 57, cracked jokes with government ministers during Tuesday's broadcast and repeated his plans to register his candidacy for the 7 October election next month as set out by the country's electoral commission.

"The defeat that we're going to deal to the opposition will be unprecedented," Chavez said.

"It's part of our challenge to move to a new phase," he said, adding that his government would strive for annual economic growth of 8% and single-digit inflation if elected for another six-year term.

Speculation dampened

Consumer prices rose by 27.6% in the South American country last year, one of the world's highest rates.

It was only Chavez's third appearance in public since mid-April. He called state television twice in recent days but Tuesday's speech was his first in public since he returned from Cuba after completing radiotherapy sessions on 11 May.

The official line in recent weeks has been that Chavez was out of the public limelight to ensure he gets sufficient rest, but is on the road to recovery and will soon begin his re-election campaign.

His appearance on Tuesday could help dampen speculation, stoked by leaks from pro-opposition journalists, that his condition may be grave.

Most opinion polls give the former soldier a lead over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles, a young governor who pledges to install a Brazilian-style, centre-left government.

Capriles said Chavez appeared on television in an attempt "to undermine, intimidate and cause fear".

"We're sure that on October 7 people will choose peace and the future, not the past that this government represents," Capriles said.