By Matija Šerić
The dynamic and often fickle international relations in the last ten years have sometimes resulted in unexpected outcomes such as the conclusion of many interesting alliances. One of the most exotic alliances, at least at first glance, is the growing partnership between Venezuela and Turkey. Turkish-Venezuelan relations have experienced a dramatic rise and flourishing in the last five or six years, which is not only diplomatic but quite tangible on the trade and financial level.
A look at history shows that Turks and Venezuelans have known about each other for decades, although they didn’t cooperate more concretely until recently. For example, Venezuela is one of the first countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region with which Turkey has established diplomatic relations. Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Turkey and Venezuela (since 1999 the Bolivarian Republic) were established back in 1950. Due to the geographical distance and the fact that the two countries focused more on their immediate environment, relations remained limited until 2016.
After the death of Hugo Chávez in March 2013, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay attended the funeral and stated that the death of the Venezuelan president shook the whole of Latin America. That visit heralded a new era in which the Turkish-Venezuelan alliance will slowly begin to be forged. The following years saw the strengthening of trade cooperation between the two countries. Bilateral relations began to develop mainly thanks to mutual high-level visits from 2016 onwards. The first official visit at the presidential level took place in October 2017 when Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visited Turkey. Maduro, as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, attended the 6th Extraordinary Session (conference) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul in December of the same year. Also, in July 2018, the President of Venezuela attended the re-inauguration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Venezuela on September 21 and 22, 2018. Three months later, in December, Erdogan visited Venezuela. It was the first visit of a Turkish president to Venezuela. On that occasion, a Turkish-Venezuelan business forum was organized. A month later, the Maduro-Erdogan pact was seen to be strong as the Turkish leader did not recognize the self-proclaimed new Venezuelan president, Juan Guaido. Then in January 2019, Erdogan unequivocally condemned Guaido’s actions on Twitter: “Those who seek to appoint a postmodern colonial governor in Venezuela, where the president is elected and the people rule, should know that only democratic elections can determine how the country will be governed.” This attitude of Erdogan is not surprising since he believes that the Americans and the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the USA, are behind the failed coup against him in 2016.
Instead of supporting the new pro-Western leader Guaido, the Turks supported Maduro, so Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay attended his inauguration. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza visited Turkey in April 2019, followed by the arrival of Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez in January 2020. In November 2021, Ankara praised Venezuela for holding regional elections, which many believe were irregular and rigged by Chavistas. For example The State Department called the election “flawed”. In April 2022, the two countries signed eight agreements during Cavusoglu’s visit to Venezuela.
All the mentioned high-level interstate visits show that Turkish-Venezuelan relations are getting stronger every year. The official volume of trade between the two countries at the end of 2019 was approximately $150 million (Turkish share: $129.7 million, Venezuelan share: $20.3 million). During his last visit, Cavusoglu said that he hopes that trade between the two countries will soon amount to 1.5 billion dollars a year, which would be double the official 850 million dollars at the end of 2021.
The last “spectacular” meeting between the two presidents took place in June this year when Maduro visited Erdogan in Ankara. Maduro called Erdogan his “brother” in a tweet, while the Turkish president condemned the “unilateral” sanctions on Venezuela in a Twitter post written in Spanish. At a joint press conference after private talks, Erdogan asserted that Turkey “has always supported Venezuela and will continue to do so in the future.” He stated that Turkey opposes unilateral sanctions against Venezuela and considers it one of the “most important partners” in the Latin American region. He confirmed that he and Maduro have similar views on many geopolitical issues and want to raise bilateral relations to the “next level”. Erdogan stressed that there are many areas where Turkey and Venezuela can increase cooperation, including energy, mining, construction, health and tourism. His goal is trade exchange in the amount of a whopping 3 billion dollars. Just before press time, the two presidents witnessed the signing of three agreements on cooperation in the fields of economy, tourism and agriculture.
Maduro then praised Turkey’s growing global influence, saying the country plays a “very important” geopolitical role as one of the powers in a multipolar world. He thanked Ankara for its help during the coronavirus pandemic. He emphasized that Venezuela and Turkey are “opening up” new ways of cooperation and called on Turkish investors to take advantage of the various opportunities that are opening up as his country moves towards economic recovery. In an interview with the Turkish news agency Anadolu, Maduro praised the “beautiful Turkish homeland”, which he has visited several times, and highlighted the “great friendship” between the two countries. He stated that Ankara and Caracas already have agreements in various fields, such as trade, finance, science, technology, agriculture, mining and energy. The goal is to reach USD 1.5 billion in trade between the current and next year. According to Maduro, Venezuela could become a large port that would receive Turkish industrial and agricultural products and transport them further to countries in the South American and Caribbean regions.
“We have never had such a close relationship with Turkey or with this region of the world as today. That’s why I’m telling you that the world is much more than the United States and the West”, stated Maduro, adding that Turkey is “one of the most important regions”. At the third meeting of the Joint Commission for Cooperation between Turkey and Venezuela, Maduro stated that a plan to improve commercial, agricultural, energy and financial relations for the next 10-15 years has been drawn up. How good the relations are is shown by the fact that currently Caracas is one of the few Latin American cities that has a regular air connection with Istanbul with seven flights a week. Back in December 2016, Turkish Airlines introduced direct flights between Caracas and Istanbul (via Havana) in an effort to “connect and expand contacts”.
Venezuela has been in a serious political and economic crisis for almost the entire last decade. The inhabitants of that oil-rich country in the world experienced hyperinflation, violent protests, political unrest, major shortages of consumer goods, medicine and fuel, which forced millions of Venezuelans to leave the country. The alliance with Turkey contributed to the stabilization of the situation in the country and improved the country’s position abroad. Since 2018, Turkey has drastically increased its exports to Venezuela, including food and personal hygiene products. The South American country in turn sold gold to Turkey, although the amount is not public. Reuters reported that in 2018, 23 tons of Venezuelan gold were transported by air to Turkey.
The main factor that led to the rapprochement of Turkey and Venezuela is the resistance of the Erdogan and Maduro regimes to the West, especially the resistance to the US foreign policy. Both Turkey and Venezuela resist the US unipolar global order and seek to strengthen the multipolar order through their alliance. The United States is at diplomatic “war” with Turkey because of Erdogan’s authoritarian undemocratic government, persecution of the opposition, Turkish intervention in Syria, and increased cooperation with Russia. On the other hand, America has bad relations with Venezuela also because of the authoritarian character of the government and the persecution of the opposition, the lack of democracy, socialist economic policies, the alleged involvement of the state in the drug trade, etc.
Despite their ideological differences (Maduro is a leftist, socialist and Catholic, while Erdogan is a rightist, conservative and Islamist), both authoritarian leaders pursue nationalist and anti-American policies, so it is not surprising that they have built strong personal ties. The friendship between the Turkish and Venezuelan presidents could be vividly explained by the saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The common enemy, Washington, created a friendship between Ankara and Caracas. The friendship began to rapidly develop precisely after the failed coup attempt against Erdogan in the summer of 2016. Of course, the interest was mutual. Still, Maduro appears to be the main architect of the alliance. The alliance with Turkey is the work of his hands and one of the rare creative achievements in his foreign policy. He wanted to make a strong personal friend in the world and he succeeded. The relationship between Maduro and Erdogan is very reminiscent of the relationship between Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Despite the differences in internal policies and all the shortcomings that exist in Erdogan’s Turkey and Maduro’s Venezuela, one should be objective and admit that both countries in the international arena lead independent and sovereign policies, which is a thorn in the side of American policymakers, regardless of whether Obama, Trump or Biden are sitting in the White House. Official Washington would like to see Turkey as a peaceful NATO member that obediently accepts the advice of American diplomats and enters into conflicts with Russia, China or Pakistan at their behest. Possibly as a springboard for NATO’s involvement in conflicts in the Turkish neighborhood. Regarding Venezuela, most American politicians would like Venezuela to be, on the one hand, a cheap oil pumping station for American and other Western oil companies, and on the other hand, a country politically dependent on the USA.
It would certainly be good for Turkey and Venezuela to cultivate good relations with the US and the West as a whole, but these relations must be regulated at the level of equal sovereign states, not at the tutor-mentor level. Meanwhile, until policymakers in the West figure it out, countries like Turkey and Venezuela will look for other ways to progress. And that’s not bad news at all. Such alliances strongly contribute to multipolarity and a fairer world.
*Matija Šerić is a geopolitical analyst and journalist from Croatia and writes on foreign policy, history, economy, society, etc.