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Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Perspectives

Iran: Venezuela Risks US Action

Chavez risks U.S. action by promising to send gasoline to Iran.
Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. (Photo: Alfonso Ocando/Venezuelan Presidential Press Service)

BY GUSTAVO CORONEL

The U.S has threatened to take political and commercial action against countries that supply gasoline to Iran. The list of countries and companies that have been doing this is significant. Iran has imported some eight million barrels of gasoline from seven countries and several companies during the last four months, in spite of warnings by the United States to take punitive measures against those countries and companies.

Tehran has kept importing even after the approval by the UN Security Council of the 1929 sanctions resolution against the country. The Iranian independent news agency, FARS, reports that The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, Turkmenistan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Oman and Saudi Arabia have been Iran's main gasoline suppliers in the last months. In the recent past individual companies such as Vitol, Glencore, Trasfigura and Shell have also been listed as Iran’s suppliers of gasoline. Some of these companies selling gasoline to Iran have been linked to Marc Rich, the international gangster who was pardoned by Bill Clinton and have often played a role in numerous bribing scandals.

VENEZUELA: AT IRAN'S SERVICE

A few days ago Venezuelan ambassador to Iran, David Velazquez announced the intention of the Chavez regime to supply Iran with up to 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day. He said (www.petroleumworld.com, August 17, 2010): “ We are at Iran's service and any time Iran announces its needs, we will provide [the] gasoline”.

Iran consumes about 500,000 barrels per day of gasoline and does not possess enough refining capacity to satisfy internal consumption. Rationing exists, at some 80 liters per month per vehicle, except for official cars, taxis and commercial vehicles. In spite of rationing, the country has to import some 160,000 barrels per day of gasoline. In 2009 most of these imports came from Trasfigura, Vitol and Glencore. 

It seems obvious that 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline coming from Venezuela will not solve the Iranian gasoline deficit. Not only this volume of gasoline would not significantly aid Iran but also it will increase tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. A showdown between the Obama and Chavez governments seems to be getting closer, due to several reasons:

(1), U.S. congress members have asked the Obama government to name Venezuela as a country promoter of terrorism. High-level members of the armed and security forces of Venezuela, General Hugo Carvajal and General Henry Rangel Silva and former Minister of the Interior, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, have been named by the U.S. government as aiding international terrorism and have cancelled their U.S. visas. Rangel Silva is currently one of the top military commanders in Venezuela.

(2), In a recent special meeting of the Organization of American States, OAS, Colombia presented abundant evidence of the presence in Venezuelan territory of up to 39 camps of the Colombian terrorist groups FARC and ELN. From these camps these terrorists conduct raids into Colombia. The U.S. has officially stated that there are little doubts about Chavez tolerance for, and even protection of these terrorist groups.

(3), Mounting evidence is appearing about money laundering by Venezuelan officials in the U.S.

(4), Chavez has threatened the U.S. with cutting off the exports of Venezuelan oil to the U.S., although such an action would be highly damaging to Venezuela and would not represent a major disruption for the U.S. energy market. The threat, however, has escalated the latent conflict between the two countries.

(5), The U.S. ambassador designate to Venezuela, Larry Palmer, was originally accepted by the Chavez regime but is now rejected, after testifying in the U.S. Congress about the low morale of the Venezuelan armed forces. The U.S insists in sending Palmer and the situation could end up without the United States having an ambassador to Venezuela.  

SYMBOLIC GESTURE

Venezuela’s intention of sending gasoline to Iran would be pretty much a symbolic, rather empty gesture, as the country is no longer able to export gasoline. In fact, Venezuela is now importing some gasoline in order to satisfy its domestic needs. Any gasoline going to Iran would have to be bought by Venezuela in the international market and would probably represent a financial loss for the country. To this financial loss we should add the increasing risks of isolation of Venezuela from the democratic countries of the hemisphere, essentially another Cuba.   

 Gustavo Coronel, a 28-year oil industry veteran, was a member of the first board of directors of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and is the author of several books.

 

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