Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan presient, has arrived in Cuba to receive further treatment for cancer, shortly after delegating some of his powers to the country's vice-president and finance minister.
Chavez, who will receive chemotherapy for the disease which was diagnosed in Havana about a month ago, arrived in Cuba on Sunday following a legislative vote approving his trip on Friday.
"I am going to delegate some decisions that until now were mine, signatures and decisions, to vice president Elias Jaua and Jorge Giordani," Chavez said during a televised cabinet meeting before his departure.
Chavez, 56, said doctors have found no more malignant cells in his body following earlier cancer surgery.
Opponents say it is impossible for Chavez to effectively govern the OPEC nation of 29 million people from a Cuban hospital bed.
"When the president leaves the country, the vice-president must assume the chief executive role. It is their duty," said Hiram Gaviria, an opposition politician.
"The health of the country must be put above the president's health. We must be serious. We believe he should not hold office from Havana," added Carlos Berrizbeitia, another opposition legislator.
Chavez has rebuffed calls from the opposition to hand over temporarily the presidency to Jaua, but on saturday gave him and Jorge Giordani, the finance minister, powers that include decision-making over budget matters.
Chavez participated in a military ceremony before departing for Cuba on Saturday July 16th [Reuters]
The president, who had a large tumour removed last month in Cuba, said on Friday that he would go back to Havana to begin what "we've called the second phase".
He announced his plans on Friday after meeting Ollanta Humala, the Peruvian president-elect.
Earlier this month, Chavez admitted in a television address that he had a tumour but had undergone a successful operation in Cuba, renowned for the highest quality healthcare in the region, to extract the cancerous cells.
It was his first televised speech to the nation, weeks after he was hospitalised in Havana, sparking widespread speculation about his health.
"They confirmed the existence of a tumourous abscess, with the presence of cancerous cells, which required another operation to extract the tumour completely," he said.
'Battle for life'
Barely two days after the speech from Cuba, Chavez arrived at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, as the country was preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.
Addressing his supporters from the balcony of his presidential palace, Chavez vowed to win the battle to regain his health.
He thanked Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, saying that the veteran leader has been practically his "medical chief" while recovering in Cuba. He said he will "win this battle for life".
The announcement raised questions about whether Chavez will have the energy to run for re-election next year. He had been warming up for another six-year bid when he discovered the illness.
He is still the only declared candidate for the election, and at the very least, his campaign will be shorter and more subdued than in previous years.
Meanwhile, the front-runner to face Chavez in next year's election said on Saturday a corruption investigation ordered by the country's senior judge into his affairs showed the government feared his growing popularity.
"The government is terrified of what we represent - the future," Henrique Capriles Radonski told the Reuters news agency.
"These smoke screens demonstrate the fear they have that there will be a change."
Capriles said the allegations, which were first made two years ago by an activist in Chavez's Socialist Party, were ridiculous.
The government has previously excluded some candidates from running in elections during Chavez's rule.