Chavez says cancer has returned
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez returns to Cuba today for more surgery after a recurrence of cancer led him to name a successor for the first time in case the disease ends his 14-year dominance of the Opec nation.
Supporters gathered in squares across the South American country, shocked and saddened by the news from the 58-year-old socialist leader, who made the announcement in a late-night broadcast yesterday from the presidential palace.
In his first public acknowledgement that cancer may cut his tumultuous years in power, Mr Chavez said vice president Nicolas Maduro would take over if he is incapacitated, and urged supporters to vote for him if an election is held.
"It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention," the president said in his speech, flanked by
ashen-faced ministers. "With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out victorious."
The news was a big blow for supporters of the 58-year-old socialist leader, who elected him in October to a new six-year term in office. Twice since mid-2011 Mr Chavez has said he was cured, and then had to have more surgery.
ISpeculation about Mr Chavez's health had grown during a three-week absence from public view that culminated in his latest trip for medical tests in Cuba - where he has undergone three cancer operations since June 2011. He returned to Venezuela on Friday.
"Unfortunately, during these exhaustive exams they found some malignant cells in the same (pelvic) area ... . It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention," the president said.
"With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out of this victorious. I have complete faith in that."
Mr Chavez, who has dominated Venezuelan politics since taking power 14 years ago, said he would return to Cuba today, and that the operation would take place there in next few days.
He said he had rejected the advice of his doctors to have the surgery sooner, on Friday or this weekend, telling them he needed to fly back to Venezuela to seek the permission of lawmakers to return for the operation.
"I decided to come, making an additional effort, in truth, because the pain is not insignificant," Mr Chavez said. "But with treatment and painkillers, we are in the pre-operation phase."
Mr Chavez has been receiving treatment at the tightly guarded Cimeq hospital in Havana as a guest of his friend and political mentor, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The normally garrulous president had sharply cut back his public appearances since winning the October 7th election, saying the campaign and radiation therapy had left him exhausted.
Under Venezuela's constitution, an election would have to be held within 30 days if Mr Chavez were to leave office in the first four years of his next term, which is due to begin on January 10th.
For the first time, in a rare admission that he might not be able to govern for as long as he hopes, he singled out Mr Maduro - a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader - as his chosen candidate.
"He is a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work," Mr Chavez said. "In a scenario where they were obliged to hold a new presidential election, you should choose Nicolas Maduro."
In addition to putting his own future in doubt, the news that Mr Chavez's cancer has returned is also a blow to ruling Socialist Party candidates who wanted him to campaign alongside them before elections for state governors on December16th.
Another prolonged absence recuperating in Cuba could also postpone important policy decisions, such as a widely expected devaluation of the bolivar currency.