Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said that he will fly to Cuba to begin radiation therapy one month after undergoing surgery that removed a cancerous tumor.
"Tonight, I'm leaving for Havana," Chavez said in a televised meeting with aides on Saturday.
"I've decided, on the recommendation of my medical team and also my government political team, to begin now, as we're going to begin on Sunday, radiation therapy treatment."
Chavez's trip to Cuba will coincide with that of Pope Benedict XVI, who arrives on island on Monday after a visit to Mexico.
The Venezuelan president has been recovering from a February 26 surgery in Havana that removed a tumor from the same spot in his pelvic region where another tumor was extracted eight months earlier.
Chavez described his next phase of treatment as a "complement to the surgery that I underwent" last month.
"Yesterday, they took out the last stitches that were left from the operation. Everything's very good. I've been walking much better... Without any sort of complication, thanks to God," he said, adding that his radiation treatment will last four or five weeks.
Chavez did not indicate whether he would be in Cuba for that entire time, and has also not identified the type of cancer nor the location in his pelvic region where the tumors have been removed.
After he was diagnosed with cancer in Cuba last year, Chavez underwent an initial surgery in June that removed a tumor the size of a baseball.
He then had four rounds of chemotherapy and said tests showed no signs of any cancerous cells. But last month, he announced he was returning to Cuba for surgery to remove a lesion that proved to be malignant.
He has described the most recent tumor as measuring about 2 centimetres.
Chavez is running for re-election in October and vows that his illness will not get in the way of that political goal.
His rival, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, has criticised Chavez's handling of his cancer, saying that the president should be releasing complete details about the illness.
Chavez defended his decision to return to Cuba rather than undergo radiation treatment at home.
"I know that this decision surely will be criticised by some embittered spokespeople of the opposition," he said.
"However, I'm sure ... in this decision the great majority of Venezuelans are with me."
As Chavez was finishing his televised remarks, he said: "I'm leaving to continue this battle, the battle for life."
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|Timothy V. Gatto|