Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he was suffering from cancer once again and planned to return to Cuba on Sunday for another operation.

The president said the situation had forced him to look at the possibility that he might not be around to run the country and he had decided to name Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his successor.

Chavez delivered a surprise address to the country Saturday night on national radio and television, telling Venezuelans that he was once again battling cancer and would undergo his fourth surgical procedure in 18 months in Cuba.

"It's absolutely necessary, it's absolutely essential to undergo new surgery and that is going to happen in the next few days," Chavez said.

The president signed the papers informing the National Assembly that he would be out of the country and appointing Maduro to run the government in his absence and succeed him if he were to die.

"Nicolas Maduro should not just finish the term as the constitution says, but it is my firm opinion, clear as the full moon, absolutely irrevocable, total, that in a scenario in which presidential elections would have to be held, you should elect Nicolas Maduro as president," Chavez said.

Chavez returned to Venezuela early Friday after nine days of treatment in Cuba.

The president arrived in Cuba on Nov. 27 to undergo a new round of hyperbaric oxygenation and physical therapy, just six months after having finished radiation therapy.

The Venezuelan president has had three surgeries since June 2011, when cancer was detected in his pelvic region.

The exact location of the cancer and its seriousness have never been officially revealed. EFE