Venezuelan Industries and National Production Minister Tareck El Aissami and a committee representing the socialist dictatorship arrived in Turkey on Monday to discuss the refinement of gold in that country, which agreed to help Venezuela with its gold supply following sanctions imposed by the United States.
After two decades of socialist policies, Venezuela has largely failed to capitalize on its oil reserves, considered one of the largest known in the world. Recent reports suggest not only a shortage of oil to sell but that the nation’s oil production is in “freefall” because the government of dictator Nicolás Maduro replaced executives at the state-run Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) with cronies in the military, who have no experience in oil production.
Unlike the oil industry, which is in the hands of the government, Maduro has allowed criminal gangs to control much of the nation’s gold wealth.
Facing an economic collapse so severe that it has begun impacting the lives of high-ranking Venezuelan officials, Maduro began urging the world to invest in Venezuela’s gold industry instead of oil late last year, claiming Venezuela also boasts the world’s largest gold reserves.
Turkey heeded the call, helping Venezuela refine oil even after the U.S. government imposed sanctions on Maduro’s gold industry in November.
Now, the pro-Turkish-government Yeni Safak newspaper reports, Turkish officials are preparing to “refine thousands of tons of Venezuelan gold in the country,” assuming the Venezuelan delegation approves of the methods and facilities in place to do so. The Venezuelans will visit a facility in Çorum owned by the Ahlatçı Group, a corporation that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recruited to invest in working with the pariah Latin American nation.
Ahmet Ahlatçı, the head of the corporation, issued a statement in which he noted that Maduro “took a close interest in our facility as Venezuela is a gold producing country” and expressed gratitude to Erdogan for making the deal happen. Ahlatçı officials traveled with Erdogan to Venezuela late last year to discuss trade deals, according to Turkey’s Sabah newspaper.
Maduro’s sending of El Aissami, one of his most trusted officials, is a sign of how important the gold deal is for Venezuela’s economy to remain afloat. El Aissami previously served as the nation’s vice president and has rotated through the country’s highest ranks for over a decade. Like many in Maduro’s orbit, El Aissami is believed to maintain close criminal connections, revealed by multiple NGO and law enforcement investigations as a close associate of the Shiite narco-terrorist group Hezbollah.
Turkey offered to help refine Venezuelan gold prior to the American sanctions, which came down in November. In July, Venezuelan officials announced that the Central Bank of Venezuela had already begun refining gold in anticipation of potential sanctions. As one official explained, “It’s being done by allied countries because imagine (what would happen) if we sent gold to Switzerland and we are told that it has to stay there because of sanctions.”
Traveling to Caracas late last year following the G-20 Summit, Erdogan announced that Turkey would “cover most of Venezuela’s necessities, we have that strength, we have that opportunity.” Promising a “diversified” economic relationship, Erdogan also announced that Turkey had plans to construct a mosque in the country, despite its negligible Muslim population. Erdogan has sought to use Turkish funds to construct a mosque in Latin America for years, repeatedly attempting to convince the communist government of Cuba to approve the project. Cuba, a Marxist atheist state, rejected all suggestions.
El Aissami arrived in Turkey as a Turkish delegation featuring Vice President Fuat Oktay concluded a visit to Venezuela. Oktay also arrived in Caracas for trade reasons, suggesting in remarks on Saturday that Turkish businesses should consider investing in Venezuela, widely considered one of the world’s most failed economies. Oktay, who was also in Caracas to attend the “inauguration” of dictator Maduro – recognized by most of Latin America as illegitimate – claimed that “Latin American and the Caribbean countries take interest in Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” making the region a lucrative stop for Turkey’s businessmen.
Oktay met with El Aissami’s successor, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, “to discuss bilateral economic cooperation” during the trip, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency. They agreed on one concrete provision: expanding the number of Turkish Airlines flights connecting the two countries.