CARACAS (AP) ― Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez delegated some of his duties to his vice president and finance minister on Saturday as he prepared to fly to Cuba to start chemotherapy and a new stage of cancer treatment.
Chavez had refused opposition demands that he temporarily cede power to Vice President Elias Jaua while undergoing chemotherapy in Havana. But shortly after a legislative vote approving his trip, Chavez announced at a televised Cabinet meeting that he would hand off some responsibilities.
“Tomorrow I begin chemotherapy treatment, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got,” Chavez said in a televised speech. He said the treatment would ensure cancer cells have not spread or reappeared since he underwent surgery last month to remove a tumor.
After thorough medical checks, “no malignant cell has been detected in any other part of my body,” Chavez said to the applause of aides and allies at the presidential palace.
He added, “There is always the risk of some cells escaping or tending to reproduce, and therefore there’s a need to attack hard through chemotherapy.”
Chavez earlier announced that his vice president would oversee budget transfers to government ministries, presidential commissions, any expropriations of businesses and other budget-related responsibilities. Planning and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani would deal with matters including budget shortfalls and certain tax exemptions.
Chavez denied that he was in any way ceding his functions as president.
But he said that if his physical capacities were diminished, “I would be the first in doing what the constitution says” in delegating functions to the vice president.
He spoke at length in several televised appearances. In a speech to party leaders and aides, he called for them to defeat any internal divisions, describing them as “cancerous tumors within the political body.”
“Unity, unity, unity,” Chavez said.
He repeated that message as he addressed troops and supporters on the steps of the presidential palace. He announced new appointments for five generals including the chief of his presidential guard, saying the moves were to “continue strengthening the unity of the Armed Force.”
“Military unity, civilian unity. ... National unity. That’s one of the greatest ways you can help me now,” Chavez said. “I will return, and I’ll return better than I’m going away.”
Some analysts have said there appear to be divisions between some military and civilian allies of Chavez.
The president said his decision to delegate some of his duties was a result of “deep reflection” as he has fought cancer.
He said he planned to travel to Cuba later Saturday and would return soon but didn’t specify how long he would be away.