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Chavez Cancer Fight Could Leave Power Vacuum

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A man walks past a mural of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

(Photo by Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images)

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CARACAS, Venezuela (CBSMiami.com) – The political future of Venezuela has been thrown into chaos after the country’s president, Hugo Chavez, admitted he is battling cancer after having a tumor removed in Cuba.

Chavez said the tumor was in his pelvic area, but wouldn’t reveal exactly where or what type of cancer he is fighting. The Venezuelan leader will be in Cuba to continue to receive treatment.

Chavez has been in power for over a decade and vowed to win re-election next year and govern for at least another decade. But with the new diagnosis, Chavez has a battle to just get back his health enough to govern now, much less win another election.

Chavez gave a speech late Thursday night and said he will “be victorious in this new battle that life has placed before us.” If Chavez loses his cancer fight, Venzuela will be back at square one because there is no successor to Chavez.

Still, the military said Venezuela’s stability is guaranteed.

“President Chavez will continue because he hasn’t truly stopped exercising his functions as president,” General Rangel Silva said on state television. He said Chavez was recovering smoothly and had been on top of his duties while in Cuba.

Chavez said it was a mistake to not have taken better care of his health through medical checkups.

“What a fundamental error,” he said at a podium, flanked by the Venezuelan flag and a portrait of 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the namesake of his Bolivarian Revolution political movement.

“Now I wanted to speak to you from this steep hill, from which I feel that I’m coming out of another abyss,” Chavez said. “I wanted to speak to you now with the sun of daybreak that I feel is shining on me. I think we’ve achieved it. Thank you, my God.”

Expressing confidence that he will continue to get better, Chavez said: “I invite you all to continue climbing new summits together.”

Chavez didn’t say how much longer he expects to remain in Cuba recovering, and there was no information on when or where his message was recorded.

His appearance came after days of anxious speculation among Venezuelans about Chavez’s health. State television on Tuesday had shown photos and video of Chavez chatting animatedly with Fidel Castro, but officials had been vague about the reasons for Chavez’s continued seclusion in Cuba.

Citing Chavez’s health, the government announced Wednesday that it was canceling a two-day summit of Latin American leaders that Chavez would have hosted next week on the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s declaration of independence from Spain.

Chavez’s revelation, and the lack of any return date, is likely to further generate speculation in Venezuela about which of the president’s allies could potentially take his place if necessary. Vice President Elias Jaua has led government events in Chavez’s absence, and the leftist president’s elder brother, Adan, recently stepped up his public profile by rallying supporters at a weekend prayer meeting for Chavez’s health.

Chavez supporters gathered in Plaza Bolivar in downtown Caracas late Thursday chanting before television cameras: “Chavez, friend, the people are with you!”

There was no immediate reaction from the main opposition coalition, which earlier had demanded that the government provide details about Chavez’s condition.

Chavez said his first surgery took place June 11 for a “strange formation in the pelvic region that required an emergency operation due to the imminent risk of a generalized infection.”

He said when he arrived in Cuba after visits to Brazil and Ecuador, he had intended to have a simple checkup for a knee injury that had forced him to use a cane in recent weeks. But he said Castro had questioned him “like a doctor” and that tests confirmed the need for urgent surgery.

After that initial operation, Chavez said, doctors began to suspect other problems, and Castro gave him the news of the tumor. A series of tests “confirmed the presence of an abscessed tumor with the presence of cancerous cells, which made necessary a second operation that allowed for the complete extraction of the tumor,” Chavez said.

He didn’t say when the second operation was performed.

Chavez said his condition has been “evolving satisfactorily while I receive a complementary treatment to combat the different types of cells found, and thereby continue on the path to my complete recovery.”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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