Wearing a blue and white track suit and leading his Cabinet in cheers, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez boarded a plane for Cuba early Monday to undergo surgery for a new bout of cancer.
Chavez boarded the presidential airplane at about 1:15 a.m. according to state-run television. Before walking up the stairway, he hugged his closest advisers, pumped his fist and said "Hasta la vida siempre" always towards life.
On Saturday, Chavez announced that he had a relapse of the cancer that has plagued him since at least June of 2011 and would need a fourth round of surgery. Chavez also named a successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, and said the former union organizer and foreign minister would take charge if he was unable to return for his Jan. 10 swearing in ceremony.
On Sunday, the National Assembly approved the president's request for an indefinite absence while he undergoes treatment, but it's unclear how long he will be away.
Chavez, 58, won his fourth presidential race Oct. 7, which would keep him in power until 2019. But his continuing health problems have cast doubts on his ability to fulfill his term. If he were to die within the first four years of his presidency, new elections would be held within a month.
After weeks of speculation about his health, Chavez traveled to Cuba Nov. 27 to undergo hyperbaric oxygenation treatment. While there, he said, inflammation and soreness led doctors to perform additional tests that found the "malignant" cells near the site of his original cancer.
The administration has never said what type of cancer the president has, or what organs might be affected.
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