What many people suspected during the election campaign that saw Hugo Chavez re-elected turns out to be true.
Chavez's cancer has re-emerged and he feels it necessary to name a successor. He spoke to the nation (video here -- hat tip: David Paulin) on the subject.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez returns to Cuba on Sunday for more surgery after a recurrence of cancer led him to name a successor for the first time in a sign the disease may force an end to his 14-year rule.
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 indicator yet that Chavez's health problems could spell an end to his tumultuous 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, flanked by ashen-faced ministers.
"With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out of this victorious. I have complete faith in that."
His departure would trigger an election and mark the end of an era for the Latin American left, depriving them of one of their most acerbic voices.
A clutch of nations in the region, from Cuba and Nicaragua to Bolivia and Ecuador, depend on Chavez's oil-fuelled generosity to bolster their fragile economies.
An unruly transition from Chavez's highly centralized rule could also raise the specter of political instability in Venezuela, which holds the world's largest crude oil reserves.
The president's allies lack the charisma that has made him one of the world's most recognizable leaders - and most fierce critics of Washington - and may struggle to control his unwieldy coalition of military leaders and leftist activists.
Among them, though, Maduro - a 50-year-old, mustachioed former bus driver and union leader - is widely viewed as the most popular among Venezuelans thanks to his affable manner, humble background and close relationship with Chavez.
In recent years, Chavez has built up a militia that would be used in the streets if the opposition appeared to have the upper hand in any transition. He also has dozens of Cuban advisors who would no doubt insure that a Chavez ally ascended to the presidency.
But the death of Chavez would expose his rule for what it is - a regime based on terror and force. The only way his legacy will be realized is if the opposition is crushed and a Chavez loyalist becomes president.