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Venezuela's Chavez returns to Cuba for cancer treatment

From Marilia Brocchetto, CNN
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Sun April 8, 2012
Cuban President Raul Castro, left, greeted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his arrival in Cuba last week.
Cuban President Raul Castro, left, greeted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on his arrival in Cuba last week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Speculation has abounded about his health and political future
  • He has spent 34 days in Havana this year
  • "Do not take me yet," he says at a Mass
  • He intends to be back in Venezuela later this week

(CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez flew to Cuba early Sunday morning for another round of radiation treatment.

He was greeted at the Jose Marti International Airport, southwest of Havana, by Cuban leader Raul Castro with whom "he maintained a lively exchange," Cuba's state-run Juventud Rebelde newspaper said.

The 57-year-old president has not specified the type of cancer he is battling, and the government has released few specifics -- fueling widespread speculation about his health and political future.

On Thursday, he returned home to Venezuela from a second round of treatment -- and spent the weekend there.

So far this year, Chavez has spent 34 days in Havana.

Speaking at a Mass in his home state of Barinas on Thursday night, he teared up at times as he discussed his struggle with illness.

"Christ ... give me life, because I still have things to do for the people and this country. Do not take me yet," he said.

Chavez described cancer as "a true threat that marks the end of the path for many people. The end of the physical path, that's the truth."

But Chavez said that he was recovering, adding that he had "much faith, much hope, much willpower to defeat this threat, as many people have, with the help of God and medical science."

He ended his sometimes somber, sometimes jocular remarks with what he said was his message for God.

"Give me your crown, Christ, give it to me. Let me bleed. Give me your cross, 100 crosses, so I can carry them. But give me life, because I still have things to do for the people and this country," Chavez said. "Do not take me yet. Give me your cross, give me your thorns, give me your blood. I am prepared to carry it. But with life, Christ. Amen."

The outspoken, flamboyant socialist leader has led Venezuela since 1999 and has pledged to run for re-election in October.

On Saturday, Chavez told Venezuelan television he intends to return home from this round of treatement on Wednesday or Thursday -- in time for the country's planned celebration of the failed coup against him in 2002.

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet, Nelson Quinones, Anna Maria Luengo-Romero and Journalist Osmary Hernandez contributed to this report.

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