(ROUGH CUT ONLY - NO REPORTER NARRATION)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba early on Monday (December 10) for cancer surgery that he has recognized may end his tumultuous 14-year rule of the South American OPEC nation.
Aides said the 58-year-old socialist leader was optimistic, however, as he left for his fourth operation since mid-2011 for an undisclosed form of cancer in the pelvic area.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Chavez's Havana-bound plane had left Caracas at about 1:30 a.m. (0600 GMT).
Chavez stunned Venezuela over the weekend with his announcement that more malignant cells had been found, despite declaring himself completely cured earlier in the year and going on to win a presidential election in October.
In a speech to the nation on Saturday night, he named Vice President and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro to take over, should he become incapacitated. He also urged supporters to vote for Maduro if there is a new election.
Venezuela's Chavez goes to Cuba for cancer treatment (0:49)
Dec. 10 - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez departs for Cuba for cancer treatment, vows ''I'll be back''. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). ( Transcript )