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Recuperating Chavez says he is eating well, in 'good spirits'

By the CNN Wire Staff
Doctors in Cuba removed a cancerous tumor from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's body, the president said Thursday.
Doctors in Cuba removed a cancerous tumor from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's body, the president said Thursday.
  • NEW: Chavez says he is eating well and recovering
  • NEW: He thanks former Cuban President Fidel Castro for pushing him to seek additional care
  • Chavez says doctors found "an abscessed tumor with cancerous cells"
  • He does not reveal treatment details or when he will return to Venezuela

(CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, said Friday he is recuperating and thankful that former Cuban President Fidel Castro pushed him to seek additional care.

The Venezuelan leader made a surprise phone call to state-run television late Friday. He offered scant details about his condition beyond what he has already said.

"I'm eating well, being looked after well and am in good spirits," said Chavez. The leader projected confidence and said he was determined to emerge from his illness stronger than ever.

He spoke at some length about upcoming projects, underscoring the idea that he is still very much in charge of the day-to-day functioning of Venezuela. Chavez also thanked Castro, who he said encouraged him to seek additional treatment.

"If it wasn't for Fidel, who knows what kind of mess I'd be in right now," he said.

Earlier, officials stressed the stability of the country was not in question following Chavez's startling admission about his health.

The government, which had repeatedly said that Chavez had simply undergone a simple procedure and was recuperating as expected, on Friday amended its message to an upbeat assessment of the president's health.

In an interview on state-run television, the country's top General, Henry Rangel Silva, said he visited Chavez in Cuba and that the president was active and his normal self.

"Let's raise our spirits. This is hard news, but it is also a reality that the recovery has been effective," he said.

The general added that the military will maintain peace and continue to take orders from Chavez as commander-in-chief, despite him leading from another country.

"The members of the armed forces have the democratic conviction that has led us to maintain our role as the protectors of the national Constitution," he said.

Doctors in Cuba detected and removed a cancerous tumor from Chavez's body, Chavez announced Thursday night on national television.

He said he was continuing treatment, but did not specify what that treatment entailed, where the tumor was located or when he would return to Venezuela.

The "abscessed tumor with cancerous cells" was discovered after doctors had already operated and treated a pelvic abscess, he said. Doctors operated again without any complications and removed the tumor, he said.

Chavez said he was "receiving complementary treatments to combat the different types of cells found," and that his condition continued "evolving satisfactorily."

"I wanted to speak to you with the sun of the dawn ... I think we have achieved it, thank God," he said.

Chavez appeared steady but subdued as he spoke, flanked by a large portrait of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar on one side and the Venezuelan flag on the other. He frequently glanced down at his prepared text during the 15-minute speech.The performance showed none of the combative energy that normally characterizes his addresses, where he'll speak extemporaneously for hours on end, skewering his opponents with gusto and sketching out the vision for his "21st-century socialism."

"Throughout my life, I've been making the fundamental error of neglecting my health and being reluctant to get checkups," he said, explaining how health concerns began to pop up earlier this month while he was in Cuba on a state visit.

Chavez closed his speech by saying, "Now and always, we will live and we will overcome. Thank you very much. Until my return."

He gave no indication of any plans to delegate power during his treatment in Cuba.

Chavez details recent surgery in speech
Chavez walks with Cuba's Castro

Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua appeared on state television shortly after Chavez's speech.

"There is no time for sadness, but time for reflection, for courage and for work," he said, standing beside a group of government ministers. "Unity is what is required at this time."

Thursday's speech was Chavez's first on the state-run network since doctors in Cuba performed emergency surgery on the Venezuelan leader nearly three weeks ago.

The Venezuelan president's typically frequent live television appearances have been absent from the country's airwaves since doctors in Cuba first performed surgery to treat a pelvic abscess June 10.

His lengthy stay in Cuba and notable low profile have fueled rampant speculation about his health.

Concerns about the seriousness of his condition intensified Wednesday after Venezuelan officials announced the postponement of a high-profile summit of Latin American leaders originally scheduled to take place in Venezuela next month. The government cited Chavez's "strict process of recovery and medical treatment" as the reason behind the decision, but provided few details about his health.

Over the weekend, several allies of Chavez denied that he had cancer.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, VTV broadcast video of Chavez walking and talking with Castro in Havana.

The video showed Chavez, wearing his trademark track suit, talking with Castro and looking at Tuesday's edition of the state-run Granma newspaper. But while the video showed the pair acting chummy as they talked, neither leader addressed the Venezuelan president's medical condition.

The images reaffirmed what Venezuelan officials have been saying, Jaua told state-run VTV Wednesday. Chavez deserves to have the time he needs to recover from surgery, he said.

Journalist Osmary Hernandez contributed to this report.