Chavez undergoes cancer surgery in Cuba

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez blows a goodbye kiss prior to boarding his plane at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia, Venezuela, Dec. 10, 2012, in this picture released by Miraflores Press Office. AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

CARACAS, Venezuela Doctors began operating on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Cuba on Tuesday, his government said, after his illness reappeared despite a year and a half of surgeries and treatments.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, reading a government statement on Venezuelan television, said the surgery is under way and Chavez has "absolute confidence he will overcome the obstacles that have emerged in the path of life."

It is the fourth cancer-related operation that Chavez has undergone since June 2011.

Actor Sean Penn participates in a vigil for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in La Paz, Bolivia, Dec. 10, 2012.
Actor Sean Penn participates in a vigil for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in La Paz, Bolivia, Dec. 10, 2012.
AP Photo

"His medical team has transmitted its optimism about the success of this operation," the government said in an earlier statement.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa called it "a very delicate operation."

"He's passing through one of the hardest moments of his life. Our heart and our solidarity are with a historic president," Correa said at an event in the Ecuadorean city of Tulcan.

Correa, a close ally of the socialist leader, traveled to Cuba on Monday to meet with Chavez.

The Venezuelan president announced on Saturday that he needed to undergo a fourth cancer-related surgery after tests showed that "some malignant cells" had reappeared in the same area in his pelvic region where tumors were previously removed.

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