Tensions between the US and two governments it has targeted for regime change –Iran and Venezuela– are mounting, as five Iranian oil tankers carrying approximately 60 million gallons of gasoline and other fuel products make their way to the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. This act of mutual assistance challenges a US blockade that limits access of millions of Venezuelans to food, fuel, and medical supplies. The delivery of gasoline is now of vital importance to the very survival of the Bolivarian revolution.
According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) the illegal sanctions implemented by the US government have caused an estimated 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018. In March 2020, human rights expert, Alfred de Zayas, said that fatalities had risen to 100,000, principally on account of a dearth of medicines caused by sanctions. Now, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, challenging this crime against humanity takes on even more urgency. COHA maintains that Venezuela has every legal and moral right to solicit and accept urgently needed supplies and trade with any nation it chooses.
The battle of ideas proceeds at full steam as Iranian tankers are scheduled to arrive at Venezuelan ports in the coming days. Washington and its allies in Bogota argue that Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela represent a new chapter of Iranian inroads in the US “neighborhood”, and that with this comes the threat of terrorism. Iran and Venezuela, however, have been close allies for more than two decades. They have collaborated on oil production policy through their memberships in OPEC and often have raised their diplomatic voices in unison in favor of a multipolar world and against US interventions in Latin America and the Middle East. In 2005 VenIran was established in the state of Bolivar to assemble tractors. In 2009 Chavez committed to selling gasoline to Iran when it was suffering shortages. The only acts of terrorism in the “neighborhood,” recently have been the foiled mercenary incursions into Venezuela. This paramilitary operation was launched from Colombia, not Iran, and it has been directly linked to the US backed self-declared president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.
The Maduro administration and its international allies have been appealing to the UN to defend Venezuela’s right to engage in commerce without interference. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the lifting or suspension of sanctions to allow nations to obtain the materials they need to deal with the crisis. Venezuela maintains that there is nothing illegal per se about trade between two sovereign nations and rejects the dubious legal doctrine that US unilateral coercive measures constitute legitimate additions to international law. In the face of a pandemic, economic warfare, and paramilitary attacks, Venezuela continues to defend its sovereignty.
This battle of ideas parallels actions on the ground. According to Reuters, an anonymous senior Trump administration official said the Iranian fuel shipment “is not only unwelcome by the United States but it’s unwelcome by the region, and we’re looking at measures that can be taken.” The US has deployed additional navy ships to augment its military presence in the Caribbean, ostensibly as part of counter-narcotics operations. Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladamir Padrino announced that ships and planes of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) will escort the Iranian oil tankers once they reach Venezuela’s economic zone. Iran, meanwhile, is warning of retaliation in areas of the Middle East where it can do damage to US interests should its tankers come under attack. The stage is set for a possible confrontation.
COHA urges Washington to allow safe passage of the Iranian fuel tankers. Any action to impede their arrival at Venezuelan ports would be illegal, counter-productive, and could ignite an international conflict with unforeseeable consequences. It is time for the US to end the use of economic sanctions and join international efforts to fight the pandemic and save lives everywhere, regardless of ideological differences.