CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appeared on television Sunday for the first time in nine days after undergoing surgery in Cuba to remove a tumor.
Chavez spoke firmly in footage recorded Saturday in Havana while accompanied by various government ministers and older brother Adan Chavez. The president said his recuperation has been "open, progressive and rapid" in the footage aired Sunday in Venezuela.
Chavez said "still it hasn't been six days because the operation ended on the night of last Sunday." He verified the date of the recording by displaying a Saturday copy of the Cuban government newspaper Granma and a similar copy of the Venezuelan government paper Correo del Orinoco.
He has said doctors found the growth in the same pelvic area where a malignant, baseball-sized tumor was extracted in June 2011. He flew to Cuba for treatment on Feb. 24, and his absence from the public spotlight since then has sparked speculation about his health.
Chavez phoned into a show Friday on Venezuelan state television when he said he was recovering well.
"Everyone who has been operated on knows ... the impact of an operation of various hours," Chavez said in the most recent footage. "And how, above all the first day when the body begins to awaken, the pains begin, the obstacles, after one goes step by step recovering the functioning of the body, like I am recovering it."
He added, "Since almost the second day, I began to walk. For this, I say thanks to God, to everybody."
As he has done in recent weeks, Chavez defended Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, who has tried to violently crush a popular revolt in much of the Middle Eastern country. Venezuela has at least twice sent shipments of diesel oil to Syria over the past months.
"We continue lamenting the aggressions against Syria," Chavez said, "and the pressure of the United States government and many European countries, failing to recognize the sovereignty of a people such as the Syrian people."
"From here," Chavez said, "we send our solidarity to the Syrian people and to President Bashar Al-Assad."