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Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez appeared vigorous and in high spirits, wearing a track suit like his Socialist comrade Fidel Castro, in front of television cameras as he stepped off the plane in Caracas earlier this month. He was coming home following his latest round of cancer treatment in Cuba.

Chávez embraced government ministers on the tarmac, smiling broadly and laughing, his round face seemingly untouched by the tolls of his unspecified cancer and subsequent radiation therapy.

"I come with great optimism that this treatment will have the effects we hope for, always asking God to help us and give us the miracle of life to keep serving," Chávez said, delivering a speech on the runway.

"But as the hours and days pass, I'm sure that with God's favor, medical science and this soldier's body, I will get back to where I must be, in the front line of the battle, alongside the Venezuelan people, promoting the socialist revolution," he continued.

After Chávez orated for about 20 minutes -- not long, by his standards -- he broke into a rendition of a traditional Venezuelan song.

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"I do not envy the flight nor the nest of the Turpial," he sang in Spanish, a lyric referring to Venezuela's national bird. His stout frame propelled his baritone voice with operatic vibrato, amateur yet soulful. "I am like the wind in the harvest."

The Devil, the Clown and the CIA

Chávez has vowed to run for a fourth term in the upcoming elections in October. He has been in office since 1999.

The Venezuelan revolutionary-turned-president has developed a strong following -- a cult of personality, some critics would say -- among the poor and working class, cementing his popularity by committing a significant proportion of the country's oil wealth to social programs. Venezuela has the world's second largest known oil reserves, estimated at 211 billion barrels according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, all owned and controlled by the state after Chávez completed the nationalization of the oil industry in 2007.

Sitting atop a sea of oil, and carrying on his Bolivarian Revolution -- Chávez's pan-Latin populist offshoot of Marxism, named for revered Venezuelan founding father and freedom fighter Simón Bolivar -- he has typically regarded the U.S. icily for its free market policies and foreign interventions. He famously called former U.S. President George W. Bush "El Diablo", and ridiculed President Barack Obama as a "clown."

He has even suggested that the CIA might be responsible for his cancer.

"It's very difficult to explain, even with the law of probabilities, what has been happening to some of us in Latin America," Chávez in a televised speech in 2011, referring to several other Latin American leaders who had also contracted cancer.

"Would it be so strange that they've (the U.S. government) invented technology to spread cancer and we won't know about it for 50 years?"

Capitalism and conspiracy theories aside, Venezuela remains one of the chief exporters of oil to the U.S., ranking fourth behind Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Canada in 2011 with an average of 893 million barrels a day, according to the EIA.


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