Venezuela's Chavez suffers cancer again, names potential heir

Sun Dec 9, 2012 4:34pm EST
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By Daniel Wallis and Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez returns to Cuba on Sunday 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.

Singing, praying and waving Chavez election posters from just two months ago, throngs of red-clad supporters gathered in squares across the South American country to show solidarity with the 58-year-old socialist leader.

In his first public acknowledgement that he might have to step down, Chavez said his vice president and foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, would take over if he were incapacitated.

He urged supporters to back Maduro if there was a new vote.

"I have absolute confidence in the bright future that lies ahead for our beloved fatherland and the Bolivarian revolution," Chavez said in a short letter read to an emotional session of the National Assembly that approved his return to Havana.

His departure from office, either before or after the scheduled January 10 start of his new term, would trigger an election within 30 days. It would also mark the end of an era for the Latin American left, depriving it of one of its most acerbic voices and the region's loudest critic of Washington.

Chavez's controversial rule has turned Venezuela into a deeply polarized nation, and much more so this year because of the uncertainty over his future, and the bruising election race.

"Go with God, my president, and come back fit and well," said Rosaria Villareal, a 41-year-old woman who joined the crowds in Caracas's Plaza Bolivar next to a statue of Chavez's idol and Venezuela's independence hero Simon Bolivar.   Continued...

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez smiles as he speaks during a Council of Ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Handout/Miraflores Palace