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Venezuela not immune from US woes: Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that Venezuela is not immune to the economic woes afflicting the U.S. and Europe despite efforts to distance itself from world powers and establish a socialist system.

Chavez warned that economic problems around the globe would probably hurt Venezuela as international oil prices fall, but added that the South American nation has partially protected itself by diversifying its economy and forging trade ties with countries like China and Russia.

The self-proclaimed revolutionary spoke during a Cabinet meeting several hours before flying to communist-led Cuba, where he is scheduled to undergo a second round of chemotherapy for his cancer.

Chavez said during a televised address from the presidential palace that Venezuela, as one of the world's top petroleum producers, would likely be hurt by the problems that U.S. and European financial markets are experiencing.

Venezuela has long tried to diminish its heavy reliance on oil, which accounts for about 95 percent of export earnings.

“It could impact us. What's the first impact on us? The fall in oil prices, which has already begun,” Chavez said.

Crude oil futures ended the week at $86.88 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a drop of $8.82 from the week before.

“Venezuela has been preparing to divorce itself from the hegemonic world capitalist system, but we still are not divorced,” Chavez said.

The lowering of America's credit rating provoked anxiety among already nervous investors, causing the U.S. stock market to plunge, and rippled through Europe and Asia. The Dow Jones industrial average ended the week down 699 points, the biggest weekly point drop since October 2008.

Chavez, 57, predicted U.S. economic problems will continue downhill. “This is going to get worse,” he said.

Following his televised speech, Chavez stepped out on a balcony at the presidential palace to address a crowd of uniformed soldiers, relatives and government supporters.

“I promise you that I'm leaving in a state of genuine recuperation. Of course this illness always brings risks,” Chavez said before leaving for the airport. “The second phrase of chemotherapy is to continue in this genuine recuperation.”

“I thank my people for their prayers,” he added. “Within a few days, I'll return in better condition.”

Earlier Saturday, legislators granted Chavez permission to return to Cuba for treatment.

The president is scheduled to undergo medical tests Sunday and Monday in Cuba. He said he expected to meet on Sunday with Cuba's Fidel Castro, who he jokingly referred to as the head of the medical team overseeing his treatment.

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June to remove a tumor from his pelvic region. He has not disclosed what kind of cancer was found.

National Assembly President Fernando Soto said lawmakers voted unanimously during a special session Saturday to give Chavez authorization to leave the country.

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