Hugo Chavez back on the air after weeklong silence
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Monday that he expects to return to Venezuela in the coming days after finishing his latest round of cancer treatment, and is looking ahead to this year's election campaign.
Chavez spoke in a telephone call aired on state television for the first time since he traveled to Cuba a week earlier. During the past week, he instead communicated with supporters through messages on Twitter.
"The opposition isn't going to win presidential elections in Venezuela, never, ever again," Chavez said. "We're going to give them a devastating knockout."
"I'm not campaigning still," Chavez said, adding that he is carrying out his duties from Cuba "but in a special situation, from which I will emerge in the coming days and I will soon be there."
Chavez noted that the presidential campaign will last three months ahead of the Oct. 7 vote, when he will go up against rival Henrique Capriles.
"I aim to get close, for us to get close, to 70 percent of the vote," Chavez said. "We're going to work very hard."
He also criticized his political rivals saying they lack organization and a clear political project.
The 57-year-old president has been in Cuba since April 30 undergoing his latest round of radiation therapy treatment. He began the radiation treatments in Cuba in late March after an operation in February that he said removed a second tumor from his pelvic region.
Chavez's longer absences from the public eye and uncertainty surrounding his illness have recently fed rumors in Venezuela that cancer could interfere with his re-election hopes.
But Chavez on Monday expressed optimism saying that in "the next period from 2013 to 2019, with the grace of God, we're going to refine much more the construction of socialism."
"We have to keep strengthening our leadership, and... when I say leadership it's not only the leadership I exercise, but rather collective leadership," Chavez said.
He also stepped into international affairs, saying he hopes the victory of Socialist Francois Hollande in France's presidential election "marks a turn" for the country. Chavez called the outgoing administration of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy "a terrible government" that had acted in concert with the U.S.
"Look at how the French government ended up, subordinated to the Yankee empire," Chavez said, criticizing the French government's role in last year's conflict in Libya.