Photo: Venezuelan President Chavez Heading to Cuba for Surgery
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Thursday his impending departure for Cuba to undergo an operation for a lesion in the same part of his body where Cuban surgeons found and removed a cancerous tumor last June.
The operation is likely to take place early next week, the socialist head of state said during a nationally broadcast Cabinet meeting.
Chavez, 57, said he will be in contact with the Cabinet “every day” of his absence and that chief of staff Erika Farias and his top military aide would be accompanying him to Havana.
The National Assembly gave unanimous approval Thursday for Chavez’s request to leave the country, required under Venezuela’s constitution for presidential trips abroad of more than five days.
The president first disclosed the existence of the new lesion two days ago, following his return from an unscheduled visit to Cuba last weekend.
“I am bringing things up to date, leaving things in order, in the hands of Elias (Jaua, Venezuela’s vice president) and in your hands, the hands of the people,” Chavez said Thursday.
Opposition lawmakers called on Chavez to formally delegate power to the vice president for the duration of his absence, but National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello said the president is not constitutionally required to do so.
Chavez, who has never provided details on the precise nature of the tumor removed last year, underwent several rounds of chemotherapy after the initial surgery before announcing in October that he was cancer-free.
News of a new medical problem has roiled the campaign for Venezuela’s October presidential election, in which Chavez - who took office in 1999 - will face Henrique Capriles, a former state governor backed by a broad coalition of opposition parties.
The former army colonel was first elected in 1998 and then confirmed in a fresh vote after the enactment of a new constitution. Chavez survived a recall referendum in 2004 and won a second full six-year term in 2006.