Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will return to Cuba Sunday for more surgery after doctors diagnosed a recurrence of his cancer.
The 58-year-old socialist leader, who won re-election Oct. 7, explicitly named a successor for the first time, signaling that he may have to step down as the president, news agencies reported.
"It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention," Chavez said in a late-night broadcast Saturday from the presidential palace, flanked by ministers. "With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out of this victorious. I have complete faith in that."
He urged his supporters to vote for Vice President Nicolas Maduro if a new election had to be held. Chavez is slated to begin his third term in January.
"You all elect Nicolas Maduro as president," Chavez said, holding a small blue copy of the constitution in his hands and waving it. "We should guarantee the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution.”
"I need to return to Havana [Sunday]," Chavez said, adding that he would undergo surgery in the coming days.
The president had just returned from Cuba early Friday after learning that “some malignant cells” had recurred in the same area where tumors were previously removed.
Chavez had undergone three surgeries in less than a year and two sessions of radiation treatments before the presidential election and declared in May that he had beaten the disease. But details of Chavez's ailment as well as the type of cancer he is suffering from are still not known.
The Venezuelan constitution says that if a president-elect dies before taking office, a new election should be held within 30 days. In the meantime, the president of the National Assembly is to be in charge of the government, the Associated Press reported.
Chavez' government pours billions of dollars pumped from Venezuela’s oil refineries to support food subsidies and state-funded social programs, but has been battling with a housing crisis, power shortages, an alarming surge in crime, inflation and weakening economy.
Chavez, prior to the presidential elections in the U.S. and Venezuela, had suggested that if he and Barack Obama won their respective re-elections, both nations, which don’t have their ambassadors in each others’ capitals, “could begin a new period of normal relations.”