Caracas, Venezuela, July 16: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Friday that he will return to Cuba to begin a new phase of cancer treatment that will include chemotherapy.
Chavez said he was seeking legislative approval to go back to Havana on Saturday “to begin what we've called the second phase.”
He said he was sending a letter to the president of Venezuela's National Assembly, Fernando Soto Rojas, to request immediate “legislative authorization” for his trip as required by the constitution. It was not clear how long Chavez planned to remain in Cuba.
The 56-year-old's cancer diagnosis has thrown uncertainty into Venezuela's political landscape during the past two weeks. Chavez, who has held dominant power during more than 12 years in office, has said he's confident he will rebound but has also admitted a long road to recovery remains.
Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. He has said the tumor was the size of a baseball, but has not specified where it was located.
He acknowledged on Wednesday for the first time that he expected to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment, which he said would “armor the body against new malignant cells.”
Chavez made his announcement Friday after meeting with Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala at the presidential palace. Humala wished Chavez the best in “this personal battle you are leading.”
The National Assembly was calling a special session Saturday morning to take up the president's request, said an opposition leader, legislator Alfonso Marquina.
Chavez's allies hold a majority of seats in the assembly Marquina told The Associated Press that opposition lawmakers intended to vote in favor of granting the president a “temporary absence.” He said they also hoped to receive “a medical report that dispels doubts for all Venezuelans about what the president's true state of health is.”
Marquina said he and other opposition politicians believe Vice President Elias Jaua should temporarily assume Chavez's duties while the president is away receiving treatment.
Chavez spent much of June in Cuba without revealing much about his medical state. On June 30, he announced on television that doctors had removed the tumor in the second of two surgeries.
He made a surprise return to Caracas on July 4 and rallied thousands of supporters from the presidential palace that afternoon. He arrived as Venezuela was celebrating the bicentennial of its declaration of independence from Spain.
During the past two weeks, Chavez's Twitter account has posted a flurry of messages commenting on everything from the Venezuelan soccer team's performance to a concert led by Venezuelan-born conductor Gustavo Dudamel. He's also appeared on television leading Cabinet meetings, addressing troops and attending Mass.
Chavez, who is up for re-election next year, has sought to project confidence while often telling supporters: “We will live!”
His revelation of his trip to Cuba came after reports from Brazil said the Venezuelan leader could undergo his next round of treatment at the Sirio-Libanes Hospital in Sao Paulo, which is considered one of the best hospitals in South America.
As they began their meeting at the presidential palace, Humala told Chavez: “Count on our prayers.”
“You still have to fulfill a mission with your people as president,” Humala said before they walked into the palace together.
Chavez has kept up near-daily public remarks in the past week while shortening the length of his televised speeches, saying he is under strict doctors' orders. He has abandoned his usual late-night speeches, though on Thursday he spoke to a crowd of supporters and led a Cabinet meeting.
Chavez told state television Friday that while recovering from surgery, he has been waking up at 5 a.m. and reading German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He said he has also taken up painting again and has been creating a landscape from one of the windows of the presidential palace.
“I know there are people who are happy because they believe I'm dying, that I'm going to die soon,” Chavez said. “But those evil wishes are part of that hatred ... that is erased like a tsunami of love by the blessings and prayers of a nation, of millions.” AP