Santiago de Chile, June 24, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The US State Department has announced fresh sanctions against five Iranian ship captains involved in transporting fuel to Venezuela.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that any US-based assets belonging to the individuals would be blocked, causing their “careers and prospects…[to] suffer.”
“Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk,” he added.
Last month, Iran dispatched five tankers carrying an estimated 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and diluents to Venezuela in defiance of US threats. On Monday, another Iranian cargo ship docked in Venezuela, this time carrying food to supply the first Iranian supermarket in the country.
Washington has targeted both Caracas and Tehran with crushing economic sanctions aimed at ousting their respective governments.
A sweeping embargo imposed last year not only prevents Venezuela from importing gasoline to meet national demand, but also blocks its oil industry from acquiring spare parts and diluents needed to repair refineries and kickstart domestic fuel production.
The latest sanctions came as Russia hosted Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza for bilateral talks in Moscow on Wednesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Arreaza in the Kremlin, voicing support for Venezuela in the face of US aggression.
"We strongly support your commitment to combating foreign diktat and any attempts at blatant interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, opposing any attempts at a forced regime change," he stated.
For his part, Arreaza thanked his Russian counterpart for aiding Venezuela in circumventing US sanctions and defending international law. The top Venezuelan diplomat is also due to meet Russia’s vice president to review both countries’ cooperation agenda.
Venezuela and Russia have strengthened ties in recent years, with Moscow providing the Caribbean country with loans, diplomatic support, and military technicians. Russian energy giant Rosneft was likewise carrying 60 percent of Venezuela’s oil exports as well as importing gasoline, but the firm was forced to shutter its operations in March due to sanctions.
Russia’s message of support came on the heels of a US Navy ship approaching Venezuelan shores in what the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) described as a “freedom of navigation” operation.
On Tuesday, SOUTHCOM disclosed that the guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze had sailed in a 12-nautical mile area the Venezuelan government “falsely claims to have control over.”
Venezuelan Defense Minister Padrino Lopez blasted the move as an “arrogant provocation,” vowing that the Venezuelan armed forces would “face any and all aggressions from the [US] empire.”
In April, The Trump administration announced an “anti-drug” military deployment to the Caribbean described as one of the largest operations since the 1989 invasion of Panama, with the stated goal of intercepting drug shipments out of Venezuela.
Venezuelan authorities have denounced repeated violations of its maritime borders and airspace in recent months.
Lucas Koerner reporting from Santiago de Chile and Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.