Jan 8, 2012 9:35 PM by Jacqui Heinrich
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resumed his weekly television and radio program Sunday after a hiatus of seven months due to his cancer treatment.
Chavez launched the program "Hello, President" in typical style, attacking his political opponents and the U.S. government while visiting an oil project in eastern Venezuela.
Referring to his political opponents, Chavez said: "It seems there's confusion, divisions in their ranks."
The leftist leader has used the program during his 13-year-old presidency to make announcements, chide critics and entertain his supporters, singing and telling stories in monologues often lasting four to five hours. Sunday's program lasted about five hours.
"I'm just starting my training," said Chavez, who is running for re-election in October.
The 57-year-old president had a tumor removed from his pelvic region in June and underwent four rounds of chemotherapy from July to September in both Cuba and Venezuela. He has repeatedly said he is now cancer-free, although he hasn't revealed what type of cancer he was diagnosed with.
Chavez's program on Sunday was episode No. 376 of his presidency. The last edition occurred June 5 before he underwent cancer surgery in Cuba.
Sipping coffee, Chavez said, "They still say I'm dying" and added, "With the grace of God ... I will be here with you for a long time."
He called for a round of applause for his new defense minister, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva. The U.S. has accused Rangel of aiding drug traffickers and Colombian rebels, and political opponents have highlighted what they say are antidemocratic tendencies for suggesting in a 2010 newspaper interview that neither the military nor the public would accept an opposition victory in the upcoming presidential vote.
Rangel, a former intelligence chief, stood and smiled in the audience while Chavez praised him and referred to government opponents as "squalid ones."
"Give thanks to God that the squalid ones attack you," Chavez said. "I'd be very worried if they applauded you."
Rangel's appointment was one of several recent changes in Chavez's inner circle as the president prepares his re-election campaign.
Diosdado Cabello, a former army officer who participated in a 1992 coup attempt led by Chavez, took over last week as National Assembly president, showing Chavez expects to count on him in the coming year after Cabello also assumed a top party post.
Cabello, a former vice president who is thought to have close ties to the military, has long been a close ally of Chavez, but his standing appeared diminished after he lost a 2008 state governor re-election bid to an opposition leader.
Chavez has also said another close ally, Vice President Elias Jaua, will run for state governor in the key state of Miranda, which includes part of Caracas and surrounding areas.
Chavez spoke against a backdrop of oil processing machinery, and the camera cut to a live conversations with oil workers wearing hard hats and Iranian engineers at a cement plant.
He spoke on the program several hours before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela's capital to begin a four-nation Latin American tour. Chavez rebuffed critical comments by U.S. officials, who have urged countries to insist that Iran stop defying international efforts to assess its nuclear program.
"What the empire does is make you laugh, in its desperation to do something they won't be able to do: dominate this world," Chavez said.