Venezuela's Chavez undergoes cancer surgery in Cuba

Tue Dec 11, 2012 4:54pm EST
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By Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's Hugo Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba on Tuesday for a cancer recurrence that has thrown his presidency into jeopardy and upended politics in the South American OPEC nation.

"My dear friend and colleague, Comandante Hugo Chavez, is going through the toughest times of his life," said Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, a fellow leftist. "He is being operated on right now. It's a very delicate operation."

The 58-year-old's surgery in political ally Cuba was his fourth since mid-2011. Doctors found malignant cells again in his pelvic area soon after he won re-election in October, leading him to name a successor in case he has to step down.

State TV in Venezuela ran hours of footage of ministers pledging their loyalty to the socialist leader. Details of his condition are treated almost as a state secret.

"The medical team are optimistic about the success of this operation," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said in a brief statement.

Having declared himself cured twice in the past, Chavez now worries the latest recurrence could end his tumultuous 14-year rule. But he retains hope of recovering in time for the January 10 start of his new six-year term in office.

Chavez named his vice president and foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, as a potential heir to lead his self-styled revolution in a nation of 29 million people with the world's largest oil reserves.

Maduro, 50, a former bus driver and union activist, lacks his boss's charisma and political flair but would represent policy continuity should he take over. He has already taken control of day-to-day government business.   Continued...