On Monday the fifth and final Iranian tanker bound for Venezuela entered on Venezuela’s territorial with a shipment of gasoline that was intended to help both countries to evade sanctions imposed on them by the United States.
Collectively, the five tankers are reported to be carrying 1.5 million barrels of gasoline. Although Venezuela is home to one of the world’s largest oil reserves, it has been rationing gasoline in recent months amidst US sanctions, government mismanagement, and unrest driven by challenges to the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s presidency. Approximately 60 countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader. And because the US is among them, its adversaries have made a point of reframing Venezuela’s political unrest as a consequences of Western imperialism.
This has naturally helped to drive the expansion in relations between Iran and Venezuela. But as Jason Brodsky, the policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, noted in a Newsweek editorial on Tuesday, this trend dates back more than a decade, to the establishment of a “special relationship” between Iran’s then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez. This relationship gave rise to extensive intelligence sharing, as well as schemes for the regular exchange of arms, cash, and drugs among Iran, Venezuela, and Syria, at a minimum.
Brodsky noted that these schemes had only gone dormant in more recent years, and were still ripe for exploitation by Maduro and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani in the face of escalating pressure from the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on both regimes. This was evident weeks before the revelation of Iran’s plans to ship gasoline to its South American ally. Reports indicate that Iranian energy experts have discretely traveled to Venezuela to help ramp up refinement operations that have fallen to an estimated 10 percent of the nation’s capacity. Additionally, Iran’s Mahan Airlines may have recently smuggled shipments of arms to Maduro’s government on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Abbas Mousavi, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, on Monday in a news briefing said, “Iran will deliver new consignments to the Venezuelan government or other countries that need our energy or raw material,”.
Although this underscores the extreme challenges that both American adversaries are facing, neither one has ceased its public defiance of economic pressure and Western “imperialism.” Maduro asserted an absolute right for both countries to trade freely despite any rationale given by the US for sanctions.