Venezuela's Hugo Chavez will return to Cuba for another operation after doctors found a recurrence of his cancer. The president named a successor for the first time in a sign his illness could force him to step down.
Chavez, 58, announced Saturday in a late-night broadcast that he would fly to Cuba on Sunday for cancer surgery.
"It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention," the president said in his speech.
"With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out of this victorious. I have complete faith in that."
In the clearest sign yet that Chavez's health problems could end to his 14 years as president, he said supporters should vote for Vice President Nicolas Maduro if a new election had to be held.
"He is a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work," Chavez said. "In a scenario where they were obliged to hold a new presidential election, you should choose Nicolas Maduro."
Chavez, who has governed Venezuela since 1999, won the October 7 presidential election with 55 percent of the vote and is due to start a further six-year mandate in January.
Speculation about Chavez's health had grown during a three-week absence from the public eye culminated in his latest trip for medical tests in Cuba - where he has undergone three cancer operations since June 2011.
He returned to Venezuela on Friday after those tests, and is due to have the operation in Cuba in the next few days.
He has never disclosed what type of cancer is suffering from.
Chavez has been receiving treatment in Cuba's capital Havana as a guest of his friend and political mentor, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He is guaranteed tight security and privacy on the communist-led Caribbean island.
Under the constitution, an election would have to be held within 30 days if Chavez were to leave office in the first four years of his new term.
An unruly transition from Chavez's highly centralized rule could spark political instability in the country that holds the world's largest crude oil reserves.
hc/sej (Reuters, AFP)