Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba on Sunday to begin chemotherapy, vowing to win his fight against cancer and calling for his political allies to stay united in his absence.
Before boarding the presidential plane at Caracas’ international airport, Mr. Chavez said, “It’s not time to die. It’s time to live.”
He stood by one of his daughters, Rosa, on a red carpet leading to the plane as a military band played the national anthem and soldiers stood at attention.
“I’m saying goodbye for some days,” Mr. Chavez said, “but in a deeper sense I’m not saying goodbye. I’m going to be in the same homeland, in the great homeland. And I’ll be attentive every day, every hour, every minute to internal events and I’ll be in permanent contact.”
He then climbed the stairs of the plane holding the hand of his daughter, who left with him. He has not said how long he expects to stay in Havana.
Cuban state television showed President Raul Castro greeting Mr. Chavez at the airport.
The 56-year-old leftist leader spent much of today discussing his health and other issues during a televised speech at the presidential palace.
“Tomorrow I begin chemotherapy treatment,” he said, “and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.” He said the treatment would ensure cancer cells have not reappeared since he underwent surgery last month to remove a tumour.
After thorough medical checks, “no malignant cell has been detected in any other part of my body,” Mr. Chavez said to the applause of aides and allies. He added there is always a risk cancer cells might reappear, “and therefore there’s a need to attack hard through chemotherapy.”
Mr. Chavez also made contingencies for his absence by delegating some of his duties to Vice-President Elias Jaua and Planning and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani.
Mr. Chavez previously had refused opposition demands that he temporarily cede power to the Vice-President while undergoing chemotherapy.
But shortly after a legislative vote approving his trip today morning, Mr. Chavez said at a televised Cabinet meeting that he would hand off some administrative responsibilities.
Mr. Chavez said his decision to entrust some of the duties to aides was a result of “deep reflection” in recent days.
He said his Vice-President would oversee budget transfers to government ministries, presidential commissions, any approved expropriations of businesses and other budget-related responsibilities. The Finance Minister would deal with matters including budget shortfalls and certain tax exemptions.
Keywords: Chavez health