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Chavez recovers after ‘successful’ cancer surgery

A woman holds a figurine of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as she attends a mass to pray for Chavez's health in Caracas December 11, 2012. Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba on Tuesday for a cancer recurrence that has thrown his presidency into jeopardy and upended politics in the South American OPEC nation.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's cancer surgery in Cuba was "successful," his vice-president said Tuesday.

The operation ended "correctly and successfully," Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said, adding that the leader was back in his room at a Cuban hospital.

Mr. Chavez's medical team had expressed "optimism" as the cancer-stricken 58-year-old underwent a fourth round of surgery.

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Mr. Chavez flew to Havana for his fourth round of surgery after revealing to his stunned countrymen Saturday that his cancer had returned just two months after his triumphant re-election to a six-year term.

Mr. Chavez, who was first diagnosed with the disease in June, 2011, had assured Venezuelans that he was cancer-free after three surgeries and debilitating rounds of chemo and radiation therapy.

Significant aspects of his condition – including the type, location and severity of his cancer – have been kept secret over the past 18 months, fuelling rumours and uncertainty about Venezuela's future.

Mr. Chavez made clear before his departure to Havana that he was facing a serious setback, publicly naming as his preferred successor for the first time – Mr. Maduro.

Without formally handing over the presidency, Mr. Chavez said he was delegating the country's "high political command" to Mr. Maduro while he was gone and said the vice-president would succeed him if he became incapacitated.

Under Venezuela's constitution, elections must be held within 30 days if the president dies or is incapacitated either before being sworn into office or in the first four years of his term.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, a firebrand leftist economist who could succeed Mr. Chavez as leader of the Latin American left, on Monday flew to the Venezuelan's side in Havana where he found him in "great spirits."

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"He gives us all strength," Mr. Correa said on Twitter, upon his return to Quito.

Mr. Correa said he had also visited Cuban President Raul Castro and his predecessor Fidel Castro during his day-long stay in the Cuban capital.

With Cuba's backing, Mr. Chavez has taken the lead in forming a bloc of leftist Latin American governments that vehemently opposes the United States and has friendly relations with U.S. adversaries like Iran.

Members of the group include Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba.

Though Cuban authorities did not announce it, Mr. Chavez is believed to be receiving treatment at the same Havana hospital he was at earlier, known as CIMEQ. The hospital, where Fidel Castro has been cared for, is seen as the communist country's best facility for complicated medical conditions.

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