Chavez heads to Cuba saying cancer is history

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - September 17, 2011

Supporters greeted Chavez with songs and a prayer outside the presidential palace before he left for the airport along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was accompanying him to the island.

Chavez told the crowd that he is confident he is overcoming the illness.

"I'm sure that this week we will close the cycle of chemotherapy and we will be turning the page," he told supporters, standing at the doors of the presidential palace.

"Chavez's cancer is now part of this history," he added, likening it to the short-lived coup he survived in 2002.

Chavez waved to the crowd wearing the red beret and fatigues from his years as an army paratroop commander.

Later, a military band played Venezuela's national anthem at the airport as Chavez and Morales prepared to board their flight to Havana.

Speaking earlier at the presidential palace, Chavez said he expected to undergo medical tests in Havana on Saturday night and then resume chemotherapy Sunday. He said he would return from Cuba before next weekend.

Once the treatments are finished, he said, it will be "goodbye to the threat of cancer, and then on to life."

"I will come out strengthened," Chavez said.

The 57-year-old leader referred to his 2012 re-election campaign saying "the battle that lies ahead is hard."

He underwent surgery in Cuba in June to remove a tumor from his pelvic region. Since then, he has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy treatments, two of those in Cuba.

He has said that the treatment aims to prevent any cancerous cells from reappearing and that tests have shown no signs of a recurrence.

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