The first of five tankers carrying Iranian fuel has reached gasoline-starved Venezuela in a show of defiance by two U.S. adversaries flouting American sanctions aimed at unseating their authoritarian governments, the Wall Street Journal reported.
As the first vessel entered Venezuelan waters late Saturday, Iran’s national anthem sounded on Venezuela state television against images of the late Islamic revolutionary Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as black-chador-covered women march with an Iranian flag – jarring sights for the rum-and-beauty-pageant-loving South American country.
Venezuelan officials claimed triumph in the face of warnings by U.S. officials of possible new actions to impede trade between the countries on top of existing sanctions on both countries’ energy industries. The Trump administration, wary of further escalation with Iran, doesn’t plan to use force to stop the vessels, U.S. officials said.
Despite a punishing economic crisis and spreading malnutrition, the tanker’s arrival gave Venezuela’s government another reason to celebrate three weeks after it put down a botched raid by mercenaries, including two former U.S. soldiers now detained in Caracas.
“Thank you, brothers,” Venezuela’s oil minister, Tareck El Aissami, said in a Twitter post. “This energy cooperation points to the benefit and development of our peoples.”
The shipments, which total 1.5 million barrels of gasoline, are a small reprieve for the embattled country, enough to satisfy Venezuelan demand for about two weeks. Though it has the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela’s lifeblood energy industry has crumbled amid a seven-year economic depression and rampant corruption. Oil production has fallen to about 600,000 barrels a day from 3 million a decade ago and refineries are in poor shape.
A rash of U.S. sanctions leveled more than a year ago against Venezuela’s oil sector has sent President Nicolas Maduro’s government scrambling for new fuel sources, the Journal adds.
Amid the shutdown from the coronavirus pandemic, shortages force citizens to line up for more than a day for gasoline. With no way to power farming equipment, much of the country’s little food output rots in the fields, according to Venezuela’s national agricultural federation.
Iran and Venezuela, both founding members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, sought to build an anti-U.S. alliance more than a decade ago under the leadership of Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chavez and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.