CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Saturday night that his cancer has returned and that he will undergo another surgery in Cuba.
Chavez, who won re-election on Oct. 7, also said for the first time that if his health were to worsen, his successor would be Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
"We should guarantee the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution," Chavez said on television, seated at the presidential palace with Maduro and other aides.
Outside medical experts said that based on Chavez's account of his condition, he is facing a very difficult fight against cancer.
The president, who just returned from Cuba early Friday, said tests had shown a return of "some malignant cells" in the same area where tumors were previously removed.
"I need to return to Havana tomorrow," Chavez said, adding that he would undergo surgery in the coming days.
Chavez's quick trip home appeared to allow him to send a clear directive to his inner circle that Maduro would be his chosen successor. He called for his allies to pull together, saying: "Unity, unity, unity."
Chavez named Maduro, his longtime foreign minister, as his choice for vice president three days after winning re-election. Maduro, a burly former bus driver, has shown unflagging loyalty and become a leading spokesman for Venezuela's socialist leader in recent years.
The vice president's expression was solemn as Chavez said that Maduro should become president if any complication were to prevent him from finishing his current term, which concludes in early January. Chavez said that if new elections are held, his movement's candidate should be Maduro.
"You all elect Nicolas Maduro as president," Chavez said, holding a small blue copy of the constitution in his hands and waving it.
The Venezuelan constitution says that if a president-elect dies before taking office, a new election should be held within 30 days and that in the meantime the president of the National Assembly is to be in charge of the government.
While he spoke, Chavez was seated at a table flanked by both Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
Chavez is scheduled to be sworn in for a new six-year term Jan. 10, and he called his relapse a "new battle."
He is to undergo his third operation to remove cancerous tissue in about a year and a half.
The 58-year-old president first underwent cancer surgery for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer in Cuba in June 2011, after an operation for a pelvic abscess earlier in the month found the cancer. He had another cancer surgery last February after a tumor appeared in the same area. He has also undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments.