UPDATE 3-Venezuela's Chavez in therapy, eyes return -Morales

* Bolivian president says Chavez preparing for homecoming

* Media say army hospital being prepared for Chavez

* Minister cautions on return date fixed yet

(Adds information minister)

LA PAZ/CARACAS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Venezuela's President

Hugo Chavez is undergoing physical therapy to hasten his return

from Cuba after surgery there last month for the cancer

jeopardizing his 14-year rule, Bolivian President Evo Morales

said on Tuesday.

The comments by Morales, a fellow leftist and close friend

of Chavez, added to positive signals from Venezuelan officials

that the president was improving and may be able to return from

Cuba, where he had surgery on Dec. 11.

He has not been seen or heard from in public since then.

"I communicated with Cuba and, brothers and sisters, we have

good news about our brother, President Hugo Chavez. He is

already undergoing physical therapy to return to his country,"

Morales said in a speech to parliament in La Paz.

"Latin American leaders like Fidel (Castro) and Hugo Chavez

are very much needed at international events, and I'm certain

that soon we will be (together again) at presidential summits,"

Morales added, without giving more details.

There were rumors around New Year's Day that the socialist

Chavez, 58, was on life support. They have given way in the past

few days to speculation he may soon return to Venezuela.

Local media reports have said a military hospital in Caracas

is being prepared to receive Chavez.

In the absence of detailed medical information, Venezuelans

are debating whether Chavez may be able to recover well enough

to continue governing or whether he wants to come home to smooth

a handover of power or simply to say farewell.

'ENCOURAGING NEWS'

After Morales' comments, Information Minister Ernesto

Villegas said no return date was yet planned for Chavez.

Though still in a "difficult" and "complex" battle for his

health, the latest news from Havana was promising and Chavez was

in "good spirits", the minister said in comments carried live on

TV after a cabinet meeting in Caracas.

"Commander Chavez is in Havana in the process of full

re-establishment of his health," Villegas said. "The (latest)

report was very encouraging ... There is no return date yet."

Before going to Cuba, Chavez named Vice President Nicolas

Maduro, a former bus driver who rose through the ranks to become

one of Chavez's most faithful allies, as his preferred successor

should he be incapacitated.

Maduro would, though, have to win a new vote.

Morales and Venezuelan officials' comments suggest Chavez

may have come through some of the worst effects of his

operation. The government had acknowledged he suffered bleeding

and a lung infection after surgery.

The disease was detected in his pelvic area in mid-2011.

Venezuela's foreign minister said on Monday that Chavez was

laughing and joking, as well as giving instructions again on

government matters. But speculation persists that the cancer may

have metastasized and Chavez may not have long to live.

Some opponents are skeptical, asking why Chavez cannot speak

to the nation if he can chat with ministers.

(Writing by Hilary Burke and Andrew Cawthorne; editing by

Philip Barbara)

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