TEHRAN (Iran News) – Venezuela Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami thanked Iran on Monday for sending fuel, additives, and spare parts to increase fuel distribution and boost refinery output in the gasoline-starved South American country after the first in a flotilla of five Iranian fuel tankers docked at a Venezuelan port.
“We are fortunate to be able to count on Iran in these times,” El Aissami said from the port at the El Palito refinery in central Venezuela, where the Fortune tanker arrived overnight.
The ships “bring fuel, additives, spare parts, among other equipment, to raise our oil refining and production capacity,” said El Aissami, surrounded by senior military officers.
The gasoline shipments are arriving in defiance of stiff sanctions by the US against both nations, and they mark a new era in the burgeoning relationship between Venezuela and Iran, which is expanding its footprint in the Western Hemisphere.
“We keep moving forward and winning,” El Aissami tweeted.
State TV played images of the ship pulling through Caribbean waters as Venezuelan fighter jets flew overhead. El Aissami posted photographs on his Twitter account of the sun rising over the tanker docked at El Palito refinery.
A second ship, the Forest, entered Venezuelan jurisdictional waters on Monday, the navy wrote on Twitter.
Like the Fortune, which entered on Saturday, the Forest is escorted by the army’s ships and aircraft. She was sailing Monday afternoon in the vicinity of the insular state Nueva Esparta (northwestern Venezuela), according to the Marine Traffic website.
The arrival of three other vessels – Petunia, Faxon, and Clavel – is expected in the coming days.
“We are going to continue escorting all ships by air and by sea,” Admiral Remigio Ceballos, the head of the Strategic Operational Command of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, told state television.
The fleet carries a total of about 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to a nation with roughly 5 million cars, according to press reports.
The tankers could supply the nation with enough gasoline for a few weeks to a month at current consumption levels.
Russ Dallen, the head of the Miami-based investment firm Caracas Capital Markets, said the Iranian shipments were anything but a victory for Venezuelans.
Venezuela has one of the world’s largest refineries, which has fallen to disrepair. Deep gasoline shortages have plagued Venezuela for years, though the problem had until recently largely spared the capital of Caracas.
Despite Washington’s objections, the first ship arrived with no interference from US ships patrolling the Caribbean on what officials call a drug interdiction mission.
Risa Grais-Targow, a Venezuela analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, said that the oil shipment highlighted the increasingly parallel economic and political goals of the two nations, as well as the US government’s increasingly limited options to obstruct their relationship.
“It’s striking that the Iranians feel confident enough that the Trump administration is not going to get in their way,” Grais-Targow said, “and [Iran] is willing to take this risk and come into what is traditionally thought of as the US sphere of influence.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and senior officials celebrated the ships’ arrival after Tehran warned of “consequences” if Washington, its main enemy for more than 40 years, blocked them. The United States expressed “concern” about “the growing role” of Iran in Venezuela.
Maduro on Sunday expressed gratitude to Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ai Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, and the Iranian people from “the bottom of my heart.” He said Iran and Venezuela have a right just like any other nation in the world to engage in trade.
We are “two revolutionary nations that will never kneel down before US imperialism,” Maduro said. “Venezuela has friends in this world and brave friends at that.”
“We are never going to kneel,” the president shouted.
“The United States’ government was forced to respect the right to free trade between countries,” Iran’s Ambassador to Venezuela Hojjatollah Soltani told the state channel VTV.
Venezuela and Iran have a decades-long relationship that dates at least to the government of Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, and the architect of Venezuela’s socialist state, who became president in 1999 and died in 2013. Under Chavez, Iranians ran car factories and cement plants and built thousands of homes in the South American nation.
AP, AFP, Reuters, and The New York Times contributed to this story.
- source : Iran Daily, Irannews