CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba today for a third operation for cancer after designating his vice president as his political heir.
State television showed images of Chavez hugging Vice President Nicolas Maduro and other aides before boarding the jet.
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. Chavez, who had returned from Cuba early Friday, said on television Saturday that tests had found a return of "some malignant cells" in the same area where tumors were previously removed.
He also said for the first time that if he suffers complications, Maduro should be elected as Venezuela's leader to continue his socialist movement.
State TV reported that Chavez departed for Cuba after 1 a.m. Video of his departure was shown hours later.
"I hope to return soon," Chavez said at an earlier meeting with military commanders at the presidential palace where he promoted his defense minister, Diego Molero, to the rank of admiral in chief.
Chavez showed Molero and other military commanders a golden sword that once belonged to independence hero Simon Bolivar. Holding the sword, Chavez told the commanders that he fully trusts them and warned of potential conspiracies by enemies, both foreign and domestic.
"I'm totally sure that our homeland is safe," Chavez told them. He urged them "not to give in to intrigue."