President Hugo Chávez 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.
Chávez's return was announced in a series of three messages on his Twitter account, the first of them reading: "We've arrived once again in our Venezuelan homeland. Thank you, my God!! Thank you, beloved nation!! We will continue our treatment here."
They were the first messages to appear on Chávez's Twitter account since November 1.
"I'm clinging to Christ and trusting in my doctors and nurses," another tweet on Chávez's account said. "Onward toward victory always!! We will live and we will triumph!!"
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on television that Chávez arrived at 2:30 a.m. and was taken to the Dr Carlos Arvelo Military Hospital in Caracas, where he will continue his treatment.
Chávez's announced return to Caracas came less than three days after the government released the first photos of the president in more than two months, showing images of him looking bloated and smiling alongside his daughters.
The government didn't release any images of Chávez upon his arrival in Caracas, and unanswered questions remain about where he stands in a difficult and prolonged struggle with an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer.
Chávez was re-elected to a new six-year term in October, and his inauguration, originally scheduled for January 10, was indefinitely postponed by lawmakers in a decision that the Supreme Court upheld despite complaints by the opposition. Some speculated that with Chávez back, he could finally be sworn in.
Government officials didn't address that possibility.
Maduro said Chávez has been in a "continuous battle" and that additional details would be provided about his condition later.
Chávez's precise condition and the sort of cancer treatments he is undergoing remain a mystery, and speculation has grown recently that he may not be able to stay on as president.
Dr Carlos Castro, scientific director of the Colombian League Against Cancer in Bogotá, Colombia, said that given the government's accounts that Chávez is undergoing "complex" treatment, he thinks it is likely that he will have to step down.
"Unfortunately, the cancer he has isn't going to go away, and he's returning to continue his battle. But I think he's conscious that he isn't going to win his fight against cancer - as much as he'd like to win it," Castro told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The Venezuelan Constitution says that if a president dies or steps down, a new vote must be called and held within 30 days. Chávez raised that possibility before he left for Cuba in December by saying that if necessary, Maduro should run in a new vote and take his place.
Even the state newspaper Correo del Orinoco referred to the possibility of a new election in its Monday edition. The top headline, published before Chávez's announced return, said a poll found Maduro would win a possible election.
The Venezuelan government did not explain why Chávez made his surprise return on Monday.