CARACAS, Venezuela Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba on Monday for a third cancer operation after designating the vice president as his political heir.
State television showed images of Chavez hugging Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other aides before boarding the presidential jet.
Chavez raised a fist as he climbed the stairs alone. From the doorway of the plane, he waved and shouted “Long live our homeland!”
The president has said he will undergo cancer surgery in Havana in the coming days. Chavez, who had returned from Cuba early Friday, said on television Saturday that tests had found a return of “some malignant cells” in the same area where tumors were previously removed.
He also said for the first time that if he suffers complications, Maduro should be elected as Venezuela’s leader to continue his socialist movement.
State television reported that Chavez departed for Cuba after 1 a.m. Monday. Video of his departure was shown hours later.
“I hope to return soon,” Chavez said at an earlier meeting with military commanders where he promoted his defense minister, Diego Molero, to the rank of admiral in chief.