VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez named his vice president as his chosen successor and headed back to Cuba yesterday for more surgery for cancer after announcing that the illness returned despite two previous operations, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Mr Chavez acknowledged the seriousness of his situation in a televised address on Saturday night, saying that if he suffers complications Vice President Nicolas Maduro should take his place as Venezuela’s leader.
“There are risks. Who can deny it?” Mr Chavez said, seated at the presidential palace beside Maduro and other aides.
“In any circumstance, we should guarantee the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution,” Mr Chavez said.
He said he hasn’t given up. “I hope to give you all good news in the coming days,” said Mr Chavez, 58, who held a crucifix and kissed it. “With the grace of God, we’ll come out victorious.”
The president, who just returned from Cuba early on Friday, said tests had found a return of “some malignant cells” in the same area where tumours were previously removed.
Mr Chavez, who has yet to be sworn in for his new term after winning re-election on 7 October, said he would return to Havana and would undergo the operation in the coming days.
Mr Chavez’s quick trip home appeared aimed at sending a clear directive to his inner circle that Maduro is his chosen successor. He called for his allies to pull together, saying: “Unity, unity, unity.”
Mr Chavez had named Mr Maduro, long his foreign minister, as his choice for vice president three days after winning re-election. Mr Maduro, a burly former bus driver, has shown unflagging loyalty and become a leading spokesman for Venezuela’s socialist leader in recent years.
The vice president’s expression was solemn as Mr Chavez said that Mr Maduro should become president if any complication were to prevent him from finishing his current term, which concludes in early January. Mr Chavez said that if elections are held, his movement’s candidate should be Mr Maduro.
“In that scenario, which under the constitution would require presidential elections to be held again, you all elect Nicolas Maduro as president,” Mr Chavez said. “I ask that of you from my heart.”
“He’s one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I’m unable to… continue with his firm hand, with his gaze, with his heart of a man of the people,” Mr Chavez said, also saying that Maduro’s leadership and “the international recognition he has earned” make him fit to become president.
Mr Chavez is scheduled to be sworn in for a new six-year term on 10 January, and he called his relapse a “new battle.”
This will be his third operation to remove cancerous tissue in about a year and a half.
Dr Carlos Castro, scientific director of the League Against Cancer in neighbouring Colombia, said that he expects the operation will likely be followed by more chemotherapy.
“It’s behaving like a sarcoma, and sarcoma doesn’t forgive,” Dr Castro said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if the cancer had also spread to the lungs or other areas.
During treatment, Mr Chavez has kept secret various details about his illness, including location of the tumours and the type of cancer. He said he travelled to Cuba for treatment because his cancer was diagnosed there.