CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez bid an emotional farewell laced with references to Jesus Christ and independence hero Simon Bolivar as he departed Venezuela on Friday for Cuba for urgent surgery to remove a tumor he says is probably malignant.
Clasping the hand of his youngest daughter, Chávez addressed allies of his socialist political movement and troops standing at attention at the Miraflores presidential palace.
"I say this from my gut: With cancer or without cancer … come rain, thunder or lightning … nobody can avoid a great patriotic victory Oct. 7," the president said, referring to the date of Venezuela's presidential election. "Long live Chávez!"
The socialist president, who is seeking a fourth term, referenced Bolivar and Christ's burdens to describe his battle with cancer.
"Our (founding) father Simon Bolivar once said, 'I am a man of troubles.' I say as a son of Bolivar, I too am a man of troubles. We are a people of troubles," Chávez said. "Let the troubles come and add like the cross of Christ to the definitive liberation of the country. With the cross of Christ, one must sometimes bear pain as a spur to love. It is fuel for love."
Chávez's black SUV left the palace and rolled slowly through the capital, with red-shirted bodyguards clinging to the running boards. His head and shoulders sticking out of the sunroof, the firebrand president waved to onlookers lining the avenues and people flying Venezuelan flags from rooftops.
A motorcade of white vans and police vehicles with flashing lights followed Chávez to the airport, where he shook hands with officials and spoke briefly before taking off for Cuba in the presidential plane.
Chávez, 57, is turning to the same Cuban doctors who extracted a baseball-size cancerous tumor from his pelvic region last summer. This time, the growth is smaller, about an inch in diameter.
The Venezuelan president has not disclosed the precise location of either tumor, nor said what kind of cancer he had, but described next week's surgery as urgent.