Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on state TV Saturday night his cancer is back, and he must return to Cuba for more surgery.
Chavez returned from Havana only a day earlier, after what was supposed to have been hyperbaric oxygenation, a high-tech treatment to facilitate bone and tissue healing.
But instead, testing showed that “some malignant cells” had been detected in the same pelvic area from which tumors had been removed in prior surgeries.
"I need to return to Havana tomorrow,” the 58-year-old leader told his nation, adding that new surgery will be scheduled. Chavez is facing a new six-year term in power after twice having said he was cured, and twice having had to return to Cuba for more surgery.
Chavez this time around named longtime Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as vice president three days after he won re-election in the October 7 presidential race.
Now, flanked by Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello during his announcement on national television Saturday night, for the first time Chavez said bluntly that he had named Maduro as his successor if he could not continue as president.
"We should guarantee the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution,” he said, holding up a small blue copy of the nation's Constitution to the camera. Chavez's current term ends in January. If new elections must be held, he ordered his followers – and the nation – to elect Maduro.
Venezuelan law states that if a president-elect dies before taking office, new elections must be held within 30 days. The president of the National Assembly takes control of the government in the interim.
“You all elect Nicolas Maduro as president!” he reiterated.
The national broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas came as a huge blow for his supporters.
Venezuela is South America's largest oil exporter and holds the greatest oil reserve in the western hemisphere, but is not without its own economic challenges on the domestic front.
Internationally, Chavez in recent years developed a close personal relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as strong diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic, and with the Palestinian Authority, while breaking ties with Israel and escalating hostility towards both the Jewish State and the United States.