CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela‘s ailing President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba on Monday for cancer surgery, vowing to return quickly despite his unprecedented admission the disease could end his 14-year rule of the South American OPEC nation.
“I leave full of hope. We are warriors, full of light and faith,” the ever-upbeat Chavez said before boarding the flight to Havana. “I hope to be back soon.”
Chavez pumped a fist in the air as he set off for the latest chapter of a tumultuous rule that has seen a brief coup against him, waves of industry nationalizations, a crippling oil strike and heightened acrimony with the United States.
The 58-year-old socialist leader is facing his fourth operation since mid-2011 for a third bout of an undisclosed form of cancer in the pelvic area. The news sparked a rally in Venezuela bonds on Monday, given many investors’ preference for more a business-friendly government in Caracas.
Chavez stunned Venezuelans over the weekend with his announcement that more malignant cells had been found, despite twice declaring himself completely cured in the past.
He won re-election in October and is due to start a new six-year term on January 10. Chavez’s departure from office, either before or after that date, would trigger a vote within 30 days.
It would also mark the end of an era given his flamboyant leadership of Latin America’s hard left and self-appointed role as Washington’s main provocateur in the region.
Chavez has named Vice President and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as his preferred successor, urging supporters to vote for Maduro in the event of an election.
“I trust completely in my soldiers,” Chavez said, dressed in a blue-and-white track suit, during the swearing-in of a new defense minister before his departure.
“The republic and the revolution are…