Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's Chavez returns to Cuba for more treatment

Hugo Chavez and his mother at a mass in Barinas
Image caption Mr Chavez said he was overcome with emotion when his parents held his hands during an Easter mass

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has returned to Cuba for a third round of radiotherapy to treat a recurrence of his cancer.

President Chavez announced his departure from Caracas in a Twitter message sent from the airport.

"Heading for Havana with faith in Resurrected Christ. We'll keep living and keep winning!"

President Chavez had surgery in February to remove a second tumour from his pelvic area.

The President told Venezuelans he was returning to Cuba for more treatment after an emotional plea for his life at an Easter mass.

Tearful plea

Speaking through tears in his hometown of Barinas, he asked Jesus to give him more time because he had "things left to do".

"Give me your crown, Christ, give it to me, I will bleed, give me your cross, a hundred crosses, but give me life, because I still have things left to do for the (Venezuelan) people and for the homeland," he said during Thursday night's mass.

He later said it had been "a spontaneous, sentimental thing" brought about by the presence of his family next to him at the mass.

"My mum gave me her hand with such tenderness, and Dad gave me his... and because of this, tears rolled down my face", he said.

The exact nature of President Chavez's cancer has not been disclosed, fuelling rumours that his health may be worse than officially stated.

Mr Chavez, who has been in power since 1999, has said that despite his health problems he is determined to win October's presidential election.

Last year, he had surgery and four rounds of chemotherapy in Cuba, after a baseball-sized growth was detected in his pelvic region.

After the treatment he had said he was free from cancer, only to suffer a recurrence that required surgery in February.

Just hours before leaving for Havana, the Venezuelan leader unveiled a 32.25% increase in the minimum wage, to be introduced in two stages later this year.

"In the 1980s and 90s, the minimum wage was basically frozen, then inflation went through the roof... we've been working on this for several weeks," Mr Chavez said in a televised cabinet meeting.

Inflation is currently about 25% a year.

Details were also published of telephone calls Mr Chavez had made to the leaders of Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Chavez discussed the unrest in Syria, "especially the successful way the Syrian government had contained armed terrorist gangs... which were seeking in vain to impede the advance of political reforms pushed forward by the Assad government," according to AP news agency.

At least 9,000 people have been killed, mostly by security forces, since an uprising broke out last year against Mr Assad's rule.

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