Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has flown to Cuba for a third cancer operation after designating the vice president as his political heir.
State television showed images of Mr Chavez hugging vice president Nicolas Maduro and other aides before boarding the presidential jet.
Mr Chavez raised a fist as he climbed the stairs alone. From the doorway of the plane, he waved and shouted: “Long live our homeland!”
The president has said he will undergo cancer surgery in Havana in the coming days. Mr Chavez, who had returned from Cuba early on Friday, said on television on Saturday that tests had found a return of “some malignant cells” in the same area where tumours were previously removed.
He also said for the first time that if he suffers complications, Mr Maduro should be elected as Venezuela’s leader to continue his socialist movement.
“I hope to return soon,” Mr Chavez said at an earlier meeting with military commanders where he promoted his defence minister, Diego Molero, to the rank of admiral in chief.
Seated together at the presidential palace, Mr Chavez showed Mr Molero and other military commanders a golden sword that once belonged to independence hero Simon Bolivar. Mr Chavez held the sword as he told the officers that he fully trusts them.
He also warned of potential conspiracies by enemies, both foreign and domestic.
“I’m totally sure that our homeland is safe,” Mr Chavez told them. He urged them “not to give in to intrigue”.
Mr Chavez, a former army paratroop commander who was first elected in 1998, won re-election in October and is due to be sworn in for a new six-year term on January 10.
He has called his relapse a “new battle” and said there are risks. It will be his third operation to remove cancerous tissue in about a year and a half.
The president underwent surgery for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer in Cuba in June 2011, after an earlier operation for a pelvic abscess. He had another cancer surgery last February after a tumour appeared in the same area. He has also undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Mr Chavez’s supporters poured into city plazas across the nation on Sunday to pray for his recovery.