- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has raised serious doubts about whether he will have the stamina for a successful re-election bid, revealing that he needs to return to Cuba to have a lesion removed that is probably malignant.

Mr. Chavez told Venezuelans on Tuesday that doctors in Cuba had over the weekend found a less-than-an-inch-long lesion in the same place where they removed a cancerous tumor last year.

The socialist president, who hopes to extend his 13 years in power with another six-year term in the Oct. 7 elections, said the probability is high that the lesion is malignant and that he likely will need radiation therapy.

That will most likely mean being incapacitated in the coming weeks, though Mr. Chavez did not mention who might replace him during a temporary absence.

“I’m not going to be able to continue with the same rhythm,” he told state TV in a telephone call Tuesday night, adding he would need to “rethink my personal agenda and take care of myself, confront what must be confronted.”

Mr. Chavez did not say when he would depart for Cuba. He said he would attend to government business Wednesday, including signing papers and meeting with the Cabinet and military leaders.

His departure for Havana will be made “without haste,” he said. “All in good time.”

A leading Colombian oncologist, Dr. Carlos Castro, said that if Mr. Chavez undergoes radiation therapy that typically means a minimum of 10 daily sessions, which means Mr. Chavez would need to name a temporary replacement while undergoing treatment.

The news is bad for Mr. Chavez’s political longevity, said Luis Vicente Leon, director of surveying at the Datanalisis polling firm.

Even if the 57-year-old president returns to form after surgery, it will “be difficult to avoid comparisons to his rival [Henrique] Capriles,” an energetic and athletic 39-year-old former governor, the pollster said.

From July to September last year, Mr. Chavez received four rounds of chemotherapy, both in Cuba and in Venezuela, and he subsequently said tests showed he was cancer-free.

He has never given the cancer’s exact nature or location, and opposition politicians and critics repeatedly have accused Mr. Chavez of a lack of transparency.

Analyst Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington said the new surgery seriously complicates Mr. Chavez’s re-election prospects.

“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 also will be vexed, as it lacks an alternative candidate with Mr. Chavez’s charisma and popular following, Ms. Arnson said.

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