Andrew Cawthorne and Brian Ellsworth
December 11, 2012

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba on Monday for cancer surgery, with a vow to return quickly despite conceding for the first time that the disease could end his 14-year rule of the South American OPEC nation.

“I leave full of hope. We are warriors, full of light and faith,” the ever-upbeat Chavez said before boarding the flight to Havana. “I hope to be back soon.”

Chavez, 58, pumped a fist in the air as he set off for the latest chapter of a tumultuous rule that has included a brief coup, persistent acrimony with the United States and frequent nationalizations, as well as wildly popular anti-poverty programs.

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