Chavez in 'great spirits' ahead of surgery

A picture provided by the Venezuelan presidency shows President Hugo Chavez (centre) blowing kisses from the plane stairs just before departing from Caracas to Cuba on December 10

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez was in good spirits as he awaited another round of cancer surgery in Cuba, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said Tuesday after a quick trip to Havana.

"Chavez in great spirits. He gives us all strength," Correa said on his Twitter account after flying back to Quito.

The Ecuadoran president, a close Chavez ally and possible successor to lead the Latin American left, rushed to his colleague's side Monday after the Venezuelan president flew to Havana for his fourth round of surgery.

Chavez, who won reelection in October, had claimed he was cancer free but stunned his countrymen Saturday when he revealed that the disease had returned and designated a successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

Correa said he visited with Chavez and Cuban President Raul Castro and Fidel Castro during the day long stay in Havana.

With Cuba's backing, Chavez has taken the lead in forming a bloc of leftist Latin American governments that vehemently opposes the United States and has friendly relations with US adversaries like Iran.

Members of the group include Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba.