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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez faces new cancer battle, surgery in Cuba

By Ian James

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Dec. 9 2012 4:52 p.m. MST

The president, who had just returned from Cuba early Friday, said on television late Saturday that tests had found a return of "some malignant cells" in the same area where tumors were previously removed.

Chavez's quick trip home appeared aimed at sending a clear directive to his inner circle that Maduro is his chosen successor. He called for his allies to pull together, saying: "Unity, unity, unity."

He also said it's important for the military to remain united, saying: "the enemies of the country don't rest."

Chavez said his doctors had recommended he have the surgery right away, but that he had told them he wanted to return to Venezuela first.

"What I came for was this," he said, seated below a portrait of independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of his Bolivarian Revolution movement.

Chavez had named Maduro, his longtime foreign minister, as his choice for vice president three days after winning re-election. The 50-year-old Maduro, a burly former bus driver, has shown unflagging loyalty and become a leading spokesman for Venezuela's socialist leader in recent years.

Chavez said that if new elections are eventually held, his movement's candidate should be Maduro.

"In that scenario, which under the constitution would require presidential elections to be held again, you all elect Nicolas Maduro as president," Chavez said. "I ask that of you from my heart."

Chavez called him "one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I'm unable to ... continue with his firm hand, with his gaze, with his heart of a man of the people."

Chavez was flanked by both Maduro and Cabello, and he held a small blue copy of the constitution in his hands.

State television showed Chavez's supporters congregating in squares in various cities, and some joined hands to pray for his health. At the gathering in downtown Caracas, some expressed optimism that Chavez would pull through it. Others said they weren't sure.

"I love Chavez, and I'm worried," said Leonardo Chirinos, a construction worker. "We don't know what's going to happen, but I trust that the revolution is going to continue on, no matter what happens."

Chavez called his relapse a "new battle." It will be his third operation to remove cancerous tissue in about a year and a half.

The president underwent surgery for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer in Cuba in June 2011, after an operation for a pelvic abscess earlier in the month. He had another cancer surgery last February after a tumor appeared in the same area. He has also undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Chavez said in July that tests showed he was cancer-free. But he had recently reduced his public appearances, and he made his most recent trip to Cuba on the night of Nov. 27, saying he would receive hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Such treatment is regularly used to help heal tissues damaged by radiation treatment.

Chavez said that while he was in Cuba tests detected the recurrence of cancer.

Dr. Julian Molina, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said that based upon the limited information Chavez has made public about his cancer it appears to be terminal.

"For a patient in similar circumstances where you have given surgery as a first line of treatment, then chemotherapy, then radiation therapy and you are still dealing with a tumor this late — that indicates that it is not a curable cancer," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Molina and other medical experts said Chavez's next surgery likely won't be high-risk.

"I think if they are planning to do any surgery it is to improve his quality of life, meaning to remove a tumor that is located in a place that is either producing some pain or some difficulty for the patient," Molina said.

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