|Chavez suffers cancer again, names potential heir||
CARACAS (Reuters) - 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 case the disease ends his 14-year rule of the OPEC nation.
Supporters gathered in 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 his first public acknowledgement that cancer may cut his tumultuous years in power, Chavez said Vice President Nicolas Maduro would take over if he is incapacitated, and urged supporters to vote for him if an election is 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 victorious."
His departure from office, either before or after the scheduled January 10 start of his new term, would trigger an election within 30 days. It would mark the end of an era for the Latin American left, depriving them of one of their most forceful voices and Washington's main irritant in the region.
A clutch of Latin American and Caribbean neighbors, 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.
Allies lack his famous charisma and may struggle to control his unwieldy coalition of military and leftist leaders.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speaks during a press conference in Caracas on October 9, 2012.
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