Venezuela’s defense minister said he was thankful for Iran’s solidarity as the coronavirus pandemic adds to its economic woes. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but its capacity to refine is limited.
Planes and ships from the Venezuelan armed forces will escort Iranian tankers as soon as the vessels, carrying barrels of fuel for the South American country, enter Venezuela's exclusive economic zone, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said on Wednesday.
"When they enter our exclusive economic zone, they will be escorted by Bolivarian National Armed Forces boats and planes to welcome them in and thank the Iranian people for their solidarity and cooperation," Padrino said, defying US complaints about the shipments.
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Padrino addressed the difficulties that the Venezuelan economy was facing because of the coronavirus pandemic. The country has registered just over 800 cases of the virus, but scientists believe that close to 63% more may be infected.
"If a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran ... provides us with humanitarian aid, just as with the one we received from Russia, the People's Republic of China and other countries of the world — It is welcome," Padrino added.
Tehran has warned of "consequences"if the US, which opposes Nicolas Maduro's regime, stopped the ships from reaching their destination.
The vessels from Iran include five gasoline tankers with 1.5 million barrels of fuel. They are expected to arrive between the end of May and early June.
The announcement came soon after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the country's legitimate leader by many countries including the US, said the shipment was alarming for the region. He said he was "very worried" about this "attempt of Iranian presence on Venezuelan soil" that was not authorized by the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
While Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, oil production has taken a hit over the past two decades, due to mismanagement and, many say, rampant corruption under the socialist rule. Many also blame US sanctions aimed at removing President Nicolas Maduro from power to have had an adverse effect on the economy.
US President Donald Trump's administration has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports from Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers. Even before the pandemic, Venezuela suffered from an economic meltdown that has seen millions of Venezuelans fleeing abroad.
see/ng (dpa, AP, Reuters)