President Hugo Chavez announced a new $4 billion loan from China and discussed his health in a televised appearance Saturday, saying he is exercising each morning as part of a strict regime while recovering from cancer surgery.
Chavez said the latest loan from China will go to boost development projects in Venezuela such as railways, adding that his government will put $2 billion of its own into the projects. China has become Venezuela's biggest foreign lender in recent years, agreeing to provide more than $32 billion to be repaid in oil shipments.
The live broadcast on state television was suddenly interrupted when Chavez noted that Venezuela's national soccer team was playing a tight game against Ecuador in the Copa America tournament.
Shortly after Venezuela won the match, the broadcast of the meeting resumed. Chavez, flanked by his daughter Maria, read a list of orders from his doctors. Chavez shared jokes and laughs with government officials, saying he exercises at least one hour every morning, lifts weights, follows a strict diet, changes bandages and takes calcium supplements.
The former paratroop commander lambasted his political opponents, some of whom have suggested his illness could be a hoax purportedly designed by Cuba's Fidel Castro to boost Chavez's popularity ahead of next year's presidential election.
"They are going crazy," Chavez said. "Now they say I don't have anything, that it's all a scheme put together by Fidel."
He has said he underwent surgery in Cuba on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumor. His foreign minister said it was extracted from the same part ofthe "pelvic region" where Chavez had an abscess removed nine days earlier.
Chavez hasn't said what type of cancer is involved nor whether he is receiving chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments. Chavez has said he has stitches on his abdomen from the operation.
Chavez also has slowed his normally fast paced daily agenda in recent weeks, and the normally loquacious leader has limited the length of his speeches on orders from his doctors.
"The president is moving along in his process. It's a delicate process," Vice President Elias Jaua said earlier Saturday on television after an event at the Natioal Assembly in honor of the nation's bicentennial.
Jaua said it is "a rigorous treatment, and the entire nation has to accompany him to comply with his treatment."
Chavez had not appeared publicly on Friday, following a busy Thursday in which he addressed troops and spoke to a Cabinet meeting for anhour and a half.
Chavez's illness and his limited public appearances since returning from Cuba have been received positively by investors, who have bid up prices for Venezuela's dollar-denominated bonds on expectations of possible political changes, said Russ Dallen, who heads Caracas Capital Markets, a jont venture with the investment bank BBO Financial Services.
"The Venezuela bond market is now up 11 percent over the last three weeks," Dallen said.
A message on Chavez's Twitter account said Saturday that he was up at 5 a.m., and then underwent medical exams before reading and talking with Jaua by phone.
In what has become a near-daily mantra, Chavez said in another Twitter message: "We will live and we will win."
The president said that he is keeping a close eye on state television, which broadcast footage on Saturday of National Assembly leader Fernando Soto Rojas attending a food fair where vendors sold "hallacas," a traditional Venezuelan dish resembling a Mexican tamale.
"Hey, Comrade Soto Rojas, send me one of those hallacas," Chavez said on his Twitter account.
Chavez also lamented the killing of Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral in Guatemala. "What pain!" Chavez wrote. "We cry with Argentina and all of our great fatherland."
State television on Saturday also broadcast footage of Chavez smiling as he met with his father, mother, brothers and other relatives. It said the images were recorded the two previous days.
The videos showed Chavez at the presidential palace on Thursday introducing his relatives to a doctor in a white coat, saying: "These are, well, the Cuban battalion, the Cuban and Venezuelan battalion."
Chavez has credited his mentor Fidel Castro with helping direct his medical care in Cuba last month. Chavez made his surprise return to Caracas on July 4, four days after he announced in a prerecorded video that he was fighting cancer.
The latest video clips were edited to a soundtrack of Venezuelan folk music. The images cut to footage on Friday in which Chavez stood together with his relatives in a courtyard looking at an old softball trophy and reminiscing.