Iran and Venezuela strengthen dangerous military, economic alliance in challenge to US
In a move widely criticized by Republicans, President Biden recently sought to resume work Venezuelan oil imports in exchange for a promise of free and fair elections in 2024, a move that critics argue would strengthen the grip of Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship. This move comes at a time of increasing relations between the two enemies of the United States.
Iran and VenezuelaBoth oil-rich OPEC members with international pariah status have recently found solidarity in coordinated geopolitical, economic and military maneuvers against the common enemy of the United States, which has subjected them to a regime of economic sanctions for years.
Relations between the two countries were close under Venezuelan Socialist President Hugo Chavez, but were further strengthened under Maduro, who sought a lifeline from Iranian Islamic regime. While Venezuela has what is believed to be the world’s largest oil reserves, years of mismanagement, corruption and maintenance issues have greatly hampered its production and refining capabilities.
The former diplomat and current Venezuelan political opponent Isaias Medina sees the alliance as a clear and present threat to the United States: “In my opinion, the Axis of Evil countries are increasing their presence on Venezuelan soil to further their governmental policy of pursuing effective control of a government based on an asymmetric war against the West. …that is where the interests of Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia and Cuba align.” Medina resigned from his position at the Venezuelan Mission to the United Nations where he held a senior position on Maduro’s policies.
Geopolitical analysts have noted that the Maduro regime is now pursuing a policy of providing economic and territorial control over rogue states in exchange for access to their vast resources, including petroleum, gold, and possibly uranium.
In June of this year, Venezuela and Iran signed a 20-year cooperation plan that includes Iranian assistance in the repair and maintenance of existing Venezuelan refineries, as well as other technical and engineering expertise. The two countries also signed an agreement under which Iran will deliver four oil tankers to Venezuela via Iran’s Sadara Company. Weekly flights between Caracas and Tehran began in July, fueling speculation that the shipments could include military hardware.
Currently, Venezuela lacks both the investment capital and the expertise to revive the once formidable oil industry. With Russia’s Rosneft sidelined by US sanctions, the Maduro regime looked to Iran to step into the gap. Iran has sent fleets of tankers laden with fuel to relieve Venezuela’s crises before, and has also helped export Venezuela’s crude in the face of crippling US sanctions that have somewhat frightened Russia and China, long-term allies.
One intriguing new feature of the Iran-Venezuela relationship includes a new supermarket, Megasis, launched in 2020. This 200,000-square-foot mega store is located on the eastern edge of Caracas next to Petari, the largest and most famous slum in Venezuela, where A plot of land is stored. An impressive collection of more than 2,500 Iranian products, many of which are novelties for their new customers.
Medina, however, sees the project, “another smokescreen to hide their true intentions… Profitability is not their interest, it’s just the public face that hides the true agenda behind the ‘supermarket’: arms agreements, training, exchange of strategic resources, oil, and military equipment from on the one hand, and perhaps uranium on the other.
Iranian dissident Banafshah Zand views the supermarket itself as a public relations stunt, designed to hide the nefarious intentions of both regimes: “It is designed to show (the Venezuelan people) … we are qualified and very good at foreign relations, we are, in fact, I have friends who come And they help us…people who care about the people of Venezuela.”
However, given Iran’s current economic difficulties and deprivation, Zand argues that it is an inappropriate vanity project.
“This is the ultimate show for just who these people are. In Iran, the price of regular staples is through the roof; an egg costs the equivalent of $5… It’s a nice way to give the finger to the rest of the world.”
Venezuela has seen the United States and most of its allies recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president, while the US Justice Department has indicted Maduro and its top aides on drug smuggling and money laundering charges.
Iran is currently seeking to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal with the Biden administration, despite fierce objections from congressional Republicans and some Democrats. It is also threatened by violent protests that has swept the nation in recent weeks. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi blamed the US for the unrest, claiming it seeks to sow “chaos, terror and destruction”.
With the constant flow of tankers, cargo ships and planes between the two countries, the supermarket is likely to be a small piece in a nefarious geopolitical battle involving money laundering, arms smuggling, drug smuggling and dictatorship.
Medina argues that relations between Venezuela and Iran involve “unifying the converging strategic pieces against Western interests: Venezuela is the headquarters of these countries from the axis of evil, seeking to gain ground in South America and destabilize the West.”
The Venezuelan government’s intent also includes infiltration into the United States. Zand claims that “the government of Venezuela makes fake passports for Iranian, Syrian and Yemeni citizens” in order to facilitate their movement to and throughout the West, yet “the Biden administration is willing to cut a deal with a regime that does.”