Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez admitted Thursday to having had a cancerous tumor removed, ending weeks of speculation over his condition and unprecedented absence from public life, AFP
"Studies confirmed the existence of a tumor with cancerous cells," Chavez said in his first televised address since being rushed to hospital in Cuba three weeks ago.
The 56-year-old firebrand anti-American leader was hospitalized June 10, two days into a state visit, for what Venezuelan officials initially said was treatment for a painful pelvic abscess.
Revealing for the first time the real gravity of his condition, Chavez said a first operation to treat the abscess had uncovered the cancerous tumor and a second operation had been deemed necessary to remove the cancerous cells.
He did not reveal where the tumor was found or what type of cancer was detected.
In the emotional late night address, broadcast live in Venezuela, Chavez expressed hope for a full recovery and acknowledged a "fundamental error" in neglecting his health for years.
In contrast to famously long, improvised speeches that often run hours on end, Chavez's pre-recorded address was read from a script in a tight 15-minute video.
Flanked by an image of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar on one side and the national flag on the other, the hyperactive leader, reelected three times since 1998, was visibly thinner but remained animated during parts of his address.
Dozens of government supporters took to the streets of Caracas to show their solidarity with the ailing president.
His absence at a time when Venezuela is experiencing a major energy crisis and after a prison mutiny that left 29 people dead in prison sparked outrage in some quarters.
But Chavez insisted he was still in control.
"I have kept informed and in control of the Venezuelan government," he said, adding that he has been in "constant communication" with Vice President Elias Jaua and members of his administration.
The president of South America's biggest oil producer and the leader of the Latin American radical left did not, however, indicate when he would return to Venezuela.
Immediately following the broadcast, Jaua also made his own somber address to the nation in which he ensured the government was still working and meeting its objectives as he called for "unity of all revolutionary forces in the country."
"This is not time for sadness but time for reflection, courage and to work calmly as the commander recovers," Jaua said.
The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) said it would keep working on achieving Chavez ideals.
Chavez's medical condition had been shrouded in mystery, which deepened on Wednesday when it emerged that a major upcoming regional summit he was due to host had been delayed.
The president "is in the midst of a strict process of recovery and medical treatment," the Venezuelan foreign ministry said at the time, without providing further details.
Chavez's unusual withdrawal from public life left many Venezuelans speculating that he might have had plastic surgery, could be hiding a more serious ailment or was drumming up sympathy ahead of a 2012 re-election bid.
In his address, the president simply justified the silence on his health by saying he only wanted to speak once assured he would recover.
The government's refusal to provide any specifics on his condition for 20 days left opposition lawmakers emboldened, alleging that it was unconstitutional for the president to be governing from aboard.
Chavez last spoke publicly on June 12, when he told Telesur television by phone that he was receiving treatment in Cuba.
Since then, he has sent several Twitter messages and earlier this week appeared on Cuban and Venezuelan television alongside revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, in an apparent bid to plug rumors about his condition.
Postponement of the inaugural summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on July 5-6 added to rising concern over his lengthy stay in Havana.
That announcement also appeared to cast doubt on the normally omnipresent leftist leader making it back to Caracas in time for important celebrations marking the bicentennial of Venezuela's independence from Spain, on July 5.
Venezuelan officials had continued to reject reports in the US press that Chavez was in critical condition following his hospitalization.
"A picture says more than 1,000 words," Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra said after seeing the video of Chavez with Castro. "We can see him there, very dynamic. We can see that he is recovering."