Chavez faces cancer surgery in Cuba, vows he'll be back

Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:45pm EST
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By Andrew Cawthorne and Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba on Monday for cancer surgery, with a vow to return quickly despite conceding for the first time that the disease could end his 14-year rule of the South American OPEC nation.

"I leave full of hope. We are warriors, full of light and faith," the ever-upbeat Chavez said before boarding the flight to Havana. "I hope to be back soon."

Chavez, 58, pumped a fist in the air as he set off for the latest chapter of a tumultuous rule that has included a brief coup, persistent acrimony with the United States and frequent nationalizations, as well as wildly popular anti-poverty programs.

The socialist president first suffered an undisclosed form of cancer in the pelvic region in mid-2011. He had appeared to improve and easily won re-election in October but now faces a fourth round of surgery for a second cancer recurrence in the same area.

The news sparked a rally in Venezuela bonds on Monday, given many investors' preference for more a business-friendly government in Caracas.

Chavez stunned Venezuelans over the weekend with his nationally televised announcement that more malignant cells had been found, despite twice having declared himself cured.


Chavez's re-election in October was helped by heavy government spending on social programs and his intense emotional connection to followers who view him as a larger-than-life figure.   Continued...

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez embraces Vargas Governor Jorge Garcia Carneiro before departing to Cuba at Simon Bolivar airport in Caracas December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout