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More cancer surgery for Chavez in Cuba

Severity is clear as he names his successor

Venezuala’s President Hugo Chavez returned to Cuba yesterday for cancer surgery after naming Vice President Nicolas Maduro his political successor and warning his leadership team to refrain from intrigues.

Choose Maduro as president of the republic

Chavez was shown on Venezuelan television pumping his fist and shouting “Forward to life always” in an emotional predawn farewell before boarding a plane to Cuba surrounded by his closest aides.

Cuban President Raul Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met Chavez, 58, at the Havana international airport early yesterday, the Cuban state news agency reported.

Chavez’s health is of paramount importance to Havana’s communist leadership, which relies on Venezuela as it sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves, for cheap oil, economic aid and international support.

The leftist leader, who was re-elected in October after proclaiming himself to be cancer-free, faces his fourth round of surgery in Cuba since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

Forced out of the political fray for the time being at least by his medical condition, Chavez urged Venezuelans to support Maduro and warned against the perils of a struggle over his succession.

Chavez’s pre-dawn departure was announced via Twitter by communications minister Ernesto Villegas.

Chavez has entrusted his care almost exclusively to Cuban doctors over Venezuelans, possibly to better control information about his condition. The type and severity of Chavez’s cancer has never been disclosed.

Shortly after returning from 10 days of treatment in Cuba, he stunned the country late Saturday by revealing that his cancer had returned and he needed to undergo another round of surgery.

Treatment is “absolutely necessary,” he said on state television, admitting he may have to give up the presidency and that Maduro was his chosen successor. In an indication of the severity of the situation, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa – a close ally – announced via Twitter yesterday that he was travelling to Havana to be with Chavez.

A firebrand who rose to international prominence as an acerbic critic of the United States, the once omnipresent Chavez has been strikingly absent from view even as he campaigned for re-election.

He has missed practically every regional meeting he was to have attended over the past year and a half, including the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, the Mercosur summit in Brazil and last month’s Ibero-American summit.

Maduro’s designation as heir in the event that “something happen” to him underlined both the seriousness of Chavez’s condition, and the political uncertainty arising from his illness.

Speaking Saturday, Chavez urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro in the next presidential poll should he become incapacitated.

“Choose Maduro as president of the republic,” Chavez said. “I am asking you this from all my heart.”

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