Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was resting in a Cuban hospital late Tuesday after undergoing a “complex” surgery to deal with his recurring cancer, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said.
In a televised speech late Tuesday, Maduro said the operation was successful and Chávez could take “several days” to recover.
Wearing a black suit and surrounded by Cabinet members, Maduro urged the nation to keep praying for Chávez’s convalescence and speedy return.
“You have to come back, and we’ll be waiting for you — us your children,” Maduro said in an emotional speech. “We’ve sworn to be loyal to you beyond this life. If we had other lives to live we would still be loyal and we would be your soldiers forever.”
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Chávez traveled from Venezuela to Cuba early Monday to undergo a fourth round of surgery to treat an undisclosed form of cancer that he has been battling since at least June 2011.
The Venezuelan government has released few details about his exact condition, but Maduro said the nation would be kept abreast of his recovery.
Early Tuesday, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said Chávez was facing the most “difficult test of his life.”
During a meeting with his Colombian counterpart in the Ecuadoran border town of Tulcán, Correa said he found Chávez in good spirits when he visited him in Havana on Monday, but he said the surgical procedure he was facing was “delicate.”
“Our hearts and solidarity are with him,” Correa said, according to the state-run El Cuidadano newspaper. “He’s a historic president and hopefully he will recover fully.”
On Saturday, Chávez told the nation that his doctors had found “malignant cells” near the site where he had a tumor removed from his pelvis last year. This is the second time he has acknowledged suffering a relapse. The government has never said which type of cancer the president has or what organs are affected.
The health scare has cast doubts on whether the 58-year-old leader will be fit to assume a new six-year term on Jan. 10. Before leaving for Cuba, Chávez said that Vice President Maduro would take the helm of the oil-rich nation if he was “incapacitated” and oversee new presidential elections.
The news has unleashed waves of speculation and sometime vicious attacks on the Web.
In a message to Chávez’s detractors, Maduro asked them to put their hate aside and rally behind the ailing leader.
“Enough of your distilled hate and venom every day,” Maduro said. “Respect the president. Respect the sorrow of a dignified nation that has become free under the leadership of this man.”