The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is situated on the northern coast of South America. Home to an estimated population of 29.1 million, it covers around 916,445 square kilometres which includes the Andes mountains and the Amazon Basin Rainforest. Its main export is oil. Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 but continued resistance led in 1811 to it becoming the first Spanish American country to declare independence. A chequered political history followed which saw dictatorships rise and fall, as well as military coups. The current president is founder of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200, Hugo Chávez.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez admits to relapse of cancer
Venezuelan leader announces on national TV operation is urgent and says vice-president would lead if anything unforeseen happened
Firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has admitted a relapse of his cancer and designated Vice-President Nicolas Maduro as his heir apparent in case "something happened" to him.
But in what appeared like a presentation of his final will, the president also indicated he would like Maduro to take over the reins of power in a post-Chavez period, urging Venezuelans to vote for him in the next presidential elections.
Chavez said a return of cancer cells was detected during his most recent visit to Cuba for medical examination, and he would return to the communist-ruled island for another round of surgery.
"During this thorough examination, they again detected some malignant cells in the same area as before," Chavez said on national television on Saturday.
He did not offer details, but his cancer was first detected in the pelvic area. Neither the Venezuelan leader, nor his Cuban doctors have ever disclosed what kind of cancer that was. He admitted he was suffering "somewhat strong" pain and was taking tranquillisers as part of preparation for his upcoming surgery.
Chavez said his Cuban medical team had conveyed to him a sense of urgency about the operation, which he said was now "absolutely necessary".
Chavez returned from Havana on Friday after a 10-day stay in Cuba. He had not been seen in public for three weeks. The Venezuelan leader said that in the event "something happened" and he were incapacitated, Maduro would step in and assume control of the government for the rest of the 2013-2019 term, as required by the constitution.
Maduro, who has been serving as Venezuela's foreign minister for the past six years, was appointed vice-president in the wake of the October presidential elections. He has held both portfolios since.
Chavez made his latest announcement despite frequent assurances on the campaign trail before his re-election in October that he had been cured of cancer.
Recurring bouts of the disease have dogged Chavez's presidency for the past couple of years, requiring him to spend weeks at a time being treated in Cuba. He had a cancerous tumour removed from near his pelvic area last year.
The Venezuelan leader, 58, has repeatedly claimed to have beaten the cancer that was diagnosed last year and shrugged off his illness to see off a unified opposition and secure another six-year term on October 7.
In Cuba, the official newspaper Granma previously explained that Chavez's treatment consisted of oxygenation.
The American Cancer Society says there is no evidence this oxygen treatment - in which a patient gets inside a pressurised chamber and breathes pure oxygen for an hour - works against cancer.
However, the society says it can serve as treatment for ailments stemming from radiation treatment.
Chavez, who has been in power since 1999 and gained global prominence as an anti-American firebrand, appeared weak and subdued during the presidential campaign, but still managed to win another term that extends to 2019.
June 30, 2011 A pale-looking Hugo Chavez addresses the nation by television from Cuba, where he says doctors operated to remove a cancerous tumour from his pelvis.
July 4 The president makes a surprise return to Venezuela ahead of Independence Day celebrations.
July 17 Chavez returns to Cuba to begin a course of chemotherapy.
September 22 Finishes his fourth and final course of chemotherapy.
October 20 Chavez declares himself free of cancer.
February 21, 2012 Chavez says he will undergo another operation after a lesion is found in the same area where he had the tumour.
February 28 Surgery in Cuba.
March 4 Chavez says he will have radiation treatment in Cuba.
March 16 Returns to Venezuela after latest operation.
March 25 Chavez returns to Havana to begin his first cycle of radiation therapy.
April 14 More treatment in Cuba.
October 7 Chavez re-elected as president.
November 27 Chavez says he will return to Cuba for treatment.
December 8 Chavez says doctors in Cuba found a recurrence of malignant cells in his pelvic area.