Chavez returns to Venezuela after surgery

Venezuelan state television showed Chavez leaving Havana, where he was seen off by Cuban leader Raul Castro. He was then greeted by government ministers upon his arrival at Maiquetia airport, outside Caracas, at 2am local time.

He hugged his vice president, Elias Jaua, and his elder brother, Adan.

Later on in the morning, in a telephone interview aired on state TV, Chavez said he was having breakfast and “devouring everything”. He said he spent "very difficult days" in Cuba, but that his recovery was going well, and his first priority was his treatment schedule.

On his Twitter account, Chavez assured Venezuelans that he was back: “Good morning my beloved Venezuela! Good morning beloved people. Thanks be to God. It is the beginning of the return."

The BBC reported that the pictures of a smiling Chavez were in stark contrast to those shown a few days beforehand, when announced he was being treated for cancer.

Chavez has been in Cuba since June 8, and his return comes a day before Venezuela marks the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.

Owing to strict medical conditions, Chavez said he would not be able to take part in Tuesday's independence day parade, but would watch it from the presidential palace.

The 56-year-old may make an appearance from his balcony, where supporters were gathering late Monday.