President Hugo Chavez announced that doctors in Cuba found a new lesion in the same place where a cancerous tumour was removed last year and said that he is not deathly ill but will require surgery.
“It is a small lesion of about two centimetres (less than one inch) in diameter, very clearly visible,” Mr Chavez told state television from Barinas, his home state.
The announcement thrust Venezuelan politics into new uncertainty because the socialist leader is seeking re-election this year, hoping to extend his more than 13 years in power with a new six-year term.
He did not say when or where he would undergo the surgery, other than “in the coming days”.
He said he would meet with his inner circle and expected to provide more details after tomorrow’s cabinet meeting.
Mr Chavez, 57, said the operation should be less complicated than what he underwent in Cuba last June, when doctors removed a tumour from his pelvic region.
From July to September, Mr Chavez received four rounds of chemotherapy, both in Cuba and in Venezuela, and he subsequently said tests showed he was cancer-free.
Mr Chavez denied rumours that the cancer had spread aggressively even as he said doctors do not know whether the new growth is malignant.
“I completely deny what’s going around that I have metastasis in the liver or I don’t know where, that the cancer has spread all over my body and that I’m already dying,” he said.
He has never specified the cancer’s exact nature or location, and critics have repeatedly accused Mr Chavez of a lack of transparency.
Analyst Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre in Washington said the announcement seriously complicates Mr Chavez’s prospects for re-election on October 7.
“It’s now clear that Chavez’s cancer is far from cured. Chavez’s illness – his ability to campaign as well as to govern – is a major factor in the race. It erodes the aura of invincibility as well as inevitability that Chavez has always tried to create,” she said.
The governing party will also be vexed as it lacks an alternative with Mr Chavez’s charisma and popular following, Ms Arnson said.
She predicted “a tight race (will get) even tighter” against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, a 39-year-old state governor.