Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is traveling to Cuba for more cancer surgery.
Chavez, who was reelected to another six-year term in October, has undergone several cancer surgeries and courses of treatment in Cuba since last year.
In his first public acknowledgement the illness could cut short his term in power, Chavez, 58, said Vice President Nicolas Maduro would take over if he is incapacitated, and urged supporters to vote for Maduro if a new election must be held.
Chavez, who made the announcement in Caracas after returning from Cuba, was due to travel back to Havana on December 9.
In public squares in the capital Caracas and elsewhere, Chavez supporters gathered to chant slogans in support of the president and wish him a quick recovery.
In his televised address late December 8, Chavez said Cuban doctors had detected "the presence of new malignant cells" in a region where he previously had suffered from the disease.
"It's absolutely essential for me to submit myself to a new surgery," he said.
Chavez has not described in detail the type of cancer he is battling. In July of this year, he declared he was completely cured.
Opposition figures have criticized the secrecy, saying Venezuelans deserve to know the seriousness of their president’s condition.
The socialist politician has been in power since 1999, longer than any other elected president in Latin America. He is due to be sworn in for his new term on January 10.
Chavez is considered close to the Cuban former communist leader Fidel Castro, and has sought to forge alliances with governments viewed with suspicion by Western powers, including Iran, Belarus, and Russia.
In his television address, Chavez said that if he can no longer continue as president because of his health, supporters should rally behind his longtime ally Maduro, a former foreign minister and the current vice president.
In public squares around the country, supporters gathered to express their shock and sadness over the reappearance of Chavez’s cancer.
"Forward we go my president, I love you," said Gladys Millan in Caracas. "I love you, we need you, and not just us but many countries do. All of us that are here, we need you."
Chavez, a former lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan military, enjoys wide support among Venezuela’s poor.
This is due in part to his government’s massive spending to expand health care and education programs, financed by income from Venezuela's oil exports. Venezuela is a member of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Based on reporting from Reuters, AP, and AFP