CARACAS, Venezuela — The first of five tankers loaded with gasoline sent from Iran reached Venezuelan waters late Saturday, expected to temporarily ease the South American nation’s fuel crunch while defying Trump administration sanctions targeting the two U.S. foes.
The oil tanker Fortune encountered no immediate signs of U.S. interference as it eased through Caribbean waters toward the Venezuelan coast and Venezuelan officials celebrated the arrival.
“Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza tweeted. “Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people.”
The tanker and four behind it were finishing a high seas journey amid a burgeoning relationship between Iran and Venezuela, both of which Washington says are ruled by repressive regimes.
Russ Dallen, head of the Miami-based investment firm Caracas Capital Markets, confirmed the Fortune’s location using ship tracking technology. He said the next ship was about 3 1/2 days behind the lead tanker.
Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, but it must import gasoline because production has crashed in the last two decades. Critics blame corruption and mismanagement by the socialist administration amid an economic crisis that has led to huge migration by Venezuelans seeking to escape poverty, shortages of basic goods and crime.
The Iranian tankers hold what analysts estimate to be enough gasoline to supply Venezuela for two to three weeks.
Deep gasoline shortages have plagued Venezuela for years, though the problem had until recently largely spared the capital of Caracas, the largest population centre and political seat.
Drivers must wait for days in lines that snake through neighbourhood to fill up with government-subsidized gasoline that costs less than a penny for a tank. Wealthier drivers with U.S. dollars turn to the black market, where gas costs up to $12 a gallon. That’s a small fortune in Venezuela, where the monthly minimum wage equals less than $5.
The U.S. accuses Iran and other nations of propping up Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. It’s among nearly 60 nations that back opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, contending that Maduro illegitimately won a 2018 election that banned his most popular opponents.
In a new relationship between Caracas and Tehran, Iran recently also flew shipments of a key chemical needed to help jump start a Venezuelan oil refinery and produce gasoline.