CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was heading back to Cuba on Sunday for a third cancer surgery after naming his vice president as his choice to lead the country if the illness cuts short his presidency.
Chavez's Saturday night announcement cast uncertainty over the country, and his supporters poured into city plazas across the nation to pray for his recovery from what appears to be an aggressive type of cancer.
Some wiped tears, while others held photos of him and chanted in unison: "Ooh-Ah! Chavez isn't going away!"
Chavez acknowledged the seriousness of his situation in a televised address, saying for the first time that if he suffers complications Vice President Nicolas Maduro should be elected as Venezuela's leader to continue his socialist movement.
Several outside medical experts said that based on Chavez's account of his condition and his treatment so far, they doubt the cancer can be cured.
Chavez said he hasn't given up.
"With the grace of God, we'll come out victorious," said Chavez, who held up a crucifix and kissed it during his Saturday night appearance.
The 58-year-old president is still scheduled to be sworn in for a new six-year term Jan. 10. He has been in office for nearly 14 years, since 1999.
Chavez, who won re-election on Oct. 7, said he would undergo surgery in Havana in the coming days. Lawmakers on Sunday unanimously agreed to grant him permission to leave the country for the operation.
During a televised session, opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly agreed to Chavez's request and also said that Maduro should take on his duties during his temporary absence, as the constitution specifies. Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges criticized the incomplete information that has been released about Chavez's cancer, saying: "Venezuela has a right to know the truth."