Venezuela and Iran, U.S. adversaries that have been stung by sanctions and hobbled by the coronavirus, are forging a closer strategic partnership, providing embattled President Nicolás Maduro a vital lifeline and offering Tehran the prospect of a new center of influence just across the Caribbean Sea from Florida.
The most public display of the deepening relationship: five oil tankers now steaming across the Atlantic Ocean, carrying what analysts estimate to be 60 million gallons of Iranian gasoline, which they say was bought with Venezuelan gold, an allegation Iran denies. The first of the ships is set to arrive in Venezuelan waters as soon as this weekend, to relieve fuel shortages so dire that the sick can’t get to hospitals and produce is rotting on farms.
“You have two pariah states finding that they are able to exchange things they need for things they have,” said Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative to Venezuela.
U.S. sanctions on Iran target anyone purchasing or facilitating the purchase of petroleum products from that country, but Venezuela’s oil company is already under similar sanctions. The Trump administration has also invoked the Monroe Doctrine — the 19th-century policy that rejects outside intervention in the Western Hemisphere — to move against foreign entities that do business with Maduro.
The Iranians are warning against any U.S. effort to board or blockade the vessels, and the Venezuelans are vowing to deploy warships to escort the convoy through its territorial waters.