CARACAS - Venezuela's Hugo Chavez returns to Cuba on Sunday for another operation after doctors found a recurrence of his cancer, and the president named a successor for the first time in a sign his illness could force him to step aside.
Supporters prepared to gather in city squares across the South American country, shocked and saddened by the news from the 58-year-old socialist leader, who made the announcement in a late-night broadcast on Saturday from the presidential palace.
In the clearest sign yet that Chavez's health problems could spell an end to his 14 years at the helm of the OPEC nation, he said supporters should vote for Vice President Nicolas Maduro if a new election had to be held.
"It is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, that I undergo a new surgical intervention," the president said in his speech, during which he was flanked by ministers.
"With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out of this victorious. I have complete faith in that."