Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro welcomed the arrival of the first of five Iranian oil tankers shipping much-needed fuel to the OPEC member nation on Monday, marking the end of Ramadan and branding the tankers a challenge to “supremacist empire” America.
“The end of Ramadan brings us the arrival of the Fortune oil tanker, a show of solidarity from the Islamic people of Iran to Venezuela,” Maduro posted on Twitter on Sunday, shortly before a more formal welcome on Monday to the tanker.
“In times where the supremacist empire seeks to impose by force its dominance, only the brotherhood of free peoples will save us.”
El final del Ramadán nos trae la llegada del buque FORTUNE, muestra de la solidaridad del pueblo islámico de Irán con Venezuela. En tiempos donde el imperio supremacista pretende imponer por la fuerza su dominio, solo la hermandad de los pueblos libres nos salvará. #GraciasIrán pic.twitter.com/VhOxF6wZpE
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) May 24, 2020
Maduro’s claim Iran and Venezuela are “free peoples” largely omits the political reality of both countries. Maduro continues to hold onto power in Venezuela illegally, a socialist tyrant defying the constitution, which clearly states that he can no longer legitimately hold power once his presidential term expires. His term expired in January 2019. Iran is a similarly repressive nation, run by an Islamic theocracy dominated by its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which dissidents routinely end up tortured and disappeared into political prisons.
On Monday, the official welcome party for the Fortune tanker featured Vice President of the Economy and Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, one of Maduro’s most powerful henchmen and a U.S.-sanctioned drug trafficker. Experts on transnational narco-terrorism have for years identified El Aissami as the liaison between the Maduro regime and the Iranian terrorist organization Hezbollah.
— VTV CANAL 8 (@VTVcanal8) May 25, 2020
“We send, in the name of our constitutional President Nicolás Maduro Moros and the people of Venezuela, our appreciation to the Iranian people and all their authorities who have expressed in a firm, valiant, manner [their desire] to guarantee the advancement of agreements in energy cooperation that exist between Iran and Venezuela,” El Aissami said at an event to welcome the Fortune, according to Maduro’s propaganda network VTV.
El Aissami went on to insist that the Maduro regime represents “a people of peace, a people of love, a people who want to be free and our resolve for them is firm and irrevocable. We are not anybody’s colony.”
The Fortune is one of five oil tankers sent from Iran carrying 1.5 million barrels of oil. Iran has smaller oil reserves than Venezuela – Venezuela has the second-largest known reserves after America – but state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) has largely failed in exploiting them. Under Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez, the socialist company expelled the company’s top executives and engineers, replacing them with socialist supporters with no significant experience in oil production.
In February, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela estimated that oil production in the country was at its lowest point in 75 years. The situation has worsened since, forcing Venezuelans to stand on long lines when small amounts of fuel arrive in their hometowns, often violating protocol for social distancing to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. As of last week, the Argentine outlet Infobae reported that Venezuelans are paying as much as $15.20 a gallon for gasoline, in a nation where the fuel has historically been close to free.
The Maduro regime claims, without elaborating, that U.S. sanctions on the regime are the true reason for its inability to produce and sell oil. With the arrival of the Iranian tankers, El Aissami claimed that Iran had also sent in oil production experts to help restart the refineries and production sites shut down by socialist mismanagement.
Iran’s state propaganda network PressTV credited Tehran’s experts with “enabling the strategic El Palito facility to resume gasoline production after it was forced to largely reduce its activities under pressure from draconian American sanctions.”
It did not specify which sanctions or what they prohibited Venezuela from doing. In reality, the sanctions prohibit the Maduro regime from enriching itself with the natural resources it no longer legally controls, but they should not in theory prevent PDVSA facilities from functioning.
Imágenes del momento en que el buque iraní #Fortune atracó con aditivos para producir combustible en la refinería El Palito, del estado #Carabobo, a unos 200 kilómetros de #Caracas. Fotos: @Mippcivzla. pic.twitter.com/xkx7fNNu6W
— Érika Ortega Sanoja (@ErikaOSanoja) May 25, 2020
Both governments have nonetheless framed the arrival of the tankers as an act of defiance against Washington, even though the administration of President Donald Trump did not intervene in the tankers’ arrivals, instead only noting that the deal violates sanctions on nations buying Iranian oil. Maduro had essentially predicted Trump would use the tankers as an excuse to attack the country, organizing “military exercises” to ward off American invaders.
The lack of an act of war by the Trump administration, and instead holding of routine military exercises, prompted Brigadier General Yadollah Javani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, to declare “the era for the presence of the Americans [in the region] is coming to an end.”
“The Americans are in a situation under which longer presence in the region would be to their detriment, because the regional countries despise the Americans and this awakening of the nations has caused the Americans to lose the position they once held in this region,” the Iranian terrorist added, according to PressTV.