Iran challenges the United States again with the shipment of four oil tankers to Venezuela

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a warrant for the seizure of Iranian oil on board these vessels
Five Iranian tankers heading for Venezuela on Sunday, May 17, 2020, as part of an agreement between the two nations sanctioned by the United States amid growing tensions between Tehran and Washington

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Five Iranian tankers heading for Venezuela on Sunday, May 17, 2020, as part of an agreement between the two nations sanctioned by the United States amid growing tensions between Tehran and Washington

In May, Tehran challenged Washington on the Caribbean coast by sending five tankers that allegedly carried 1.5 million barrels to Venezuela, a country in the throes of an unprecedented triple crisis (political, economic and social).  A month and a half later, the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit and a seizure order with a court in the District of Columbia, to confiscate the Iranian oil on board four ships destined for the same country, just one week after imposing new sanctions on the captains of the cargo ships belonging to the Islamic Republic that recently transported gasoline to the nation presided over by Nicolás Maduro. 

The new memorandum prepared by the Justice Department on Thursday accuses the Iranian Revolutionary Guard of sending oil to the Latin American country through the cargo ships Bella, Bering, Pandey and Luna.  The memo states that profits from oil sales support "the full range of atrocious activities of the IRGC, including the proliferation of weapons, support for terrorism and various human rights abuses, both at home and abroad," they said. 

Venezuela - a country with the world's largest oil reserves - is suffering from a serious shortage of gasoline, caused by government mismanagement and US sanctions on its oil sector.  At the moment, a team of Israeli technicians is working in the Venezuelan state oil company thanks to a cooperation plan between both nations. Within the framework of this agreement, Iran will provide workers and technicians to the Latin American country in exchange for approximately nine tons of gold for a value of 500 million dollars. 

Maduro sostiene un lingote de oro, en una imagen de archivo
PHOTO/MIRAFLORES PALACE via REUTERS - Maduro holds a gold bar, in an archive image

Over the past few months, President Donald Trump's administration has blocked energy trade between Iran and Venezuela in an effort to bring down the Maduro government. Prosecutors charged with drafting this legal document have claimed that the shipments involve the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, considered by the United States to be a "terrorist organization. According to the lawsuit, there are currently more than 1.1 million barrels of Iranian oil on board the four ships. Thus, the Bella would transport 302,502 barrels, the Bering, 302,522, the Luna, 259,700 and the Pandi, 298,484. ​​​​​​​

On the other hand, the country presided by Donald Trump has also announced this Thursday the lifting of the sanctions imposed a month ago against shipping companies and vessels operating in the Venezuelan oil sector, according to the France Press news agency. "The removal of sanctions is possible for designated individuals and entities that take concrete and significant actions to restore democratic order, speak out against the abuses of the illegitimate Maduro regime or fight corruption in Venezuela," they said. 

"We are two rebel nations, two revolutionary nations that will never go down on their knees to U.S. imperialism. Venezuela has friends in this world and brave friends in that". With these words, the Venezuelan president welcomed the first fuel tanker sent to Venezuela, despite the sanctions imposed by the United States to prevent this type of trade relations.  Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called these measures a "waste of arrogance" and described them a week ago "as evidence of the hatred of Donald Trump's hawks against all Venezuelans, beyond their political positions".  

La gente pasa por delante de una gasolinera con un cartel que dice "No hay gasolina", debido a la falta de petróleo en Caracas, el 14 de mayo de 2020 en medio del brote del coronavirus
AFP/ FEDERICO PARRA -People walk past a gas station with a sign that says "No Gasoline" due to the lack of oil in Caracas on May 14, 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak 

In response to the U.S. demand, Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, has said that any action taken by the United States to prevent Iran's legal trade with countries like Venezuela could be described as an "act of piracy.  "Any attempt on the high seas to prevent Iran from engaging in legal trade with any country it chooses will be an act of piracy, pure and simple. This is not surprising, since the United States has consistently shown that it has no respect for maritime and international law. Moreover, it has tried to supplant international law with its domestic laws. This is a direct threat to international peace and security and is contrary to international law, including the United Nations Charter," he said on Twitter. 

In recent years, Venezuela has had to deal with problems such as commodity shortages, fiscal deficits and inflation. In this scenario, the fall in oil prices has further worsened the economic situation suffered by the Bolivarian nation which, in the midst of this crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, has been called to parliamentary elections on 6 December.