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Hugo Chávez: 'I'm free of illness'

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AP Photo/Estudios Revolucion

(Read caption) In this picture released by Cuba's state newspaper Granma and taken by Estudios Revolucion, Cuba's President Raul Castro, left, greets Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, right, upon his arrival at the Jose Marti international airport in Havana, Cuba, late Sunday Oct. 16, 2011.

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“I am free of illness,” President Hugo Chávez declared today, as he landed back in Venezuela after medical tests in Cuba this week declared him healthy. "Chávez is back!”

The announcement today is designed to put an end to four difficult months for both the president and his supporters. However, not all have confidence in his declarations. Karen Hooper, analyst at Stratfor, says: "This doesn't mean anything concrete. No one accurately declares themselves free of cancer after just a few months. This is political theater."

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His words stand in stark contrast to media reports and doctor comments that Chavez is terminally ill - the same kind of rumors that have swirled about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro after he fell ill in 2006. Mr. Castro is still alive and penning his views, particularly his anti-American ones, in columns in Granma.

Chavez's supporters, who for the first time in more than a decade were forced to imagine a Venezuela without the populist leader, will rejoice in his optimism.

Chávez landed in the western city of La Fria Thursday to make a pilgrimage to a Catholic shrine.

“It would be easier for a donkey to pass through the eye of a needle than for the opposition to win the elections,” Chávez said, playing on a Biblical quote.

“I am more and more Christian,” he added. “Socialism is the way of Christ.”

The struggle of the donkey through the eye of a needle was made ever more difficult this week as the Supreme Court ruled that popular opposition figure Leopoldo López was allowed to run for the presidency but not able to hold office if he won.