The triumphal return of the hostages is being seen as a major political victory for the leftist leader after recent setbacks. It has brought international praise for Chavez and even grudging acknowledgement from Washington. But the Venezuelan leader is an arch-critic of the Bush administration and the White House has made clear it will not ask him to help free three US captives being held by FARC.
The release comes just a month after Chavez suffered a stunning defeat at home in a referendum on extending his powers. It also gives fresh hope to the families of Ingrid Betancourt and the hundreds of other hostages being held in jungle camps.