By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS (Reuters) - There is "no doubt" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will run for re-election next year despite returning to Cuba for more treatment after cancer surgery, the OPEC-member nation's finance minister said on Monday.
The political situation in South America's biggest oil exporter has been rocked by Chavez's announcement that he had an operation in Havana last month to remove a baseball-sized tumor.
Before flying back to Cuba on Saturday for chemotherapy, the 56-year-old said doctors had found no malignant cells in his body after the surgery. But his illness has raised doubts about his fitness to govern the country of 29 million people.
"I think there is no doubt the president will be present at the 2012 elections and then for many more years," Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said in an interview with state TV.
Chavez has resisted opposition demands to hand over the presidency temporarily during his absence abroad. Instead, the socialist leader has delegated some powers, including budgetary matters, to Giordani and Vice President Elias Jaua.
Chavez, whose charisma and image of invincibility have helped him win numerous ballots, is visibly weakened as he plans his re-election campaign.
He has not said what type of cancer he has, nor exactly how long he will be out of the country this time. He said on Saturday he would be ready to fly home again "in a few days."
His comments over the weekend would indicate that the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body and thus become more dangerous and difficult to treat.
One source close to Chavez's medical team in Venezuela has told Reuters he is suffering from colon cancer that could require months of chemotherapy. That has not been confirmed.
Opposition politicians say his absence from Venezuela while he is in Havana as the guest of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his friend and political mentor, puts the country's security at risk.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has been known for his frequent taunting of the United States, aggressive takeovers in Venezuela's vital oil sector and nationalizations of large swathes of its economy.
Chavez had been warming up to run for another six-year term in next year's polls when his illness struck. He is still the only declared candidate for the election. But questions are inevitably being asked about his condition.
(Editing by Will Dunham)