Venezuela's Chavez arrives in Cuba for cancer surgery
December 10, 2012 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
- State media shows Hugo Chavez embracing top officials before leaving Venezuela
- Surgery scheduled after cancer cells detected; still no word on type of cancer
- Venezuela's information ministry says the president is optimistic
- Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa says he is heading to Cuba to see Chavez
Havana (CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived Monday in Cuba for surgery just days after saying his cancer had returned.
State-run VTV showed Chavez embracing Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other top Venezuelan officials before his plane took off early Monday.
On Saturday, Chavez announced that his cancer had returned and said he wanted Maduro to replace him if "something were to happen that would incapacitate me."
If the president dies, Venezuela's constitution specifies that the vice president assumes the presidency until new elections can be held.
Venezuelan leader's long cancer fight
Hugo Chavez: Cancer has returned
2011: Chavez vows to win battle for life
Chavez called for voters to take things a step further.
"My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon -- irrevocable, absolute, total -- is ... that you elect Nicolas Maduro as president," Chavez said, waving a copy of the Venezuelan Constitution as he spoke. "I ask this of you from my heart. He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I cannot."
It was the first time Chavez had spoken publicly about the possibility of a successor -- a shocking subject from a man who looms larger than life in Venezuela and in Latin American politics.
"This is huge. He could have said something indirectly. He could have said something like, 'We'll have to see. Let's talk about it when the time comes,'" said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts. "He switched from being very evasive to very articulate. That must have been the result of a major change in health for the worse."
Venezuela's information ministry said Monday that Chavez was optimistic as he headed to Cuba for treatment.
Cuban President Raul Castro met him in Havana, the information ministry said. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said in a Twitter post that he was on the way to visit Chavez there.
Chavez, who had surgery in 2011 to remove a cancerous tumor, has undergone further surgery and radiation in Cuba since then. He declared himself cancer-free in July.
Health rumors dogged Chavez on the campaign trail this year, but didn't stop him from winning re-election in October.
The president has repeatedly spoken publicly about his cancer battle, but has never specified the type.
The government has released few specifics, fueling widespread speculation about his health and political future, and sparking criticism from political opponents.
VTV Sunday showed throngs of supporters cheering and praying in support of Chavez.
An opposition coalition leader told CNN affiliate Globovision that the opposition would be prepared for a new presidential vote.
CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet, Patrick Oppmann, Dana Ford and Rafael Fuenmayor contributed to this report.
Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
Today's five most popular stories