Ecuador's president says Venezuela's Hugo Chavez undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba

The Associated Press

QUITO, Ecuador - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba, Ecuador's president said Tuesday.

"Commander Hugo Chavez is being operated on at this moment. It's a very delicate operation," Rafael Correa said at an event in the Ecuadorean city of Tulcan.

"At this time he's passing through one of the hardest moments of his life. Our heart and our solidarity go out to a historic president," he said.

Correa, a close ally of the Venezuelan leader, travelled to Cuba on Monday and met with Chavez.

Chavez announced on Saturday that he needed to undergo a fourth cancer-related surgery after tests showed that "some malignant cells" had reappeared in the same area where tumors were previously removed.

Chavez also said for the first time that if his illness cuts short his presidency, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro should take his place and should be elected president to lead his leftist movement.

It's his third operation to remove cancerous tissue from his pelvic area in about a year and a half. An initial surgery for a pelvic abscess in June 2011 helped reveal he had cancer.

Chavez has also undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments.