“Venezuela and Iran both want peace, and we have the right to trade freely,” Nicolas Maduro said in a state television address on Sunday.
Maduro referred to the two countries as “revolutionary peoples, who will never kneel down before the North American empire.”
The comments came as Iran is shipping a reported 1.53 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela as well as equipment aimed at breathing a new life into the Latin American country’s sanction-hit refining industry.
As planned, the shipment has begun using five Iranian tankers. Maduro reminded that the development was taking place under a previous cooperation agreement.
The Venezuelan head of state said the first of the vessels, “Fortune,” had already arrived in his country’s territorial waters.
He thanked Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani for the assistance, saying Venezuela had “good and brave friends” in the world.
Upon the first tanker’s arrival, Venezuelans stormed Twitter to similarly express gratitude towards Tehran for the shipments, turning #GraciasIran into the Latin American nation’s top-trending hashtag on the social networking platform.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting News, the Iranian national broadcasting company’s news outlet, reported on Monday that the vessel was sailing towards one of Venezuela’s ports under the escort of Venezuela’s military vessels and was about to begin unloading its cargo on Tuesday.
Reuters cited a source at Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company, as identifying the port as El Palito close to the Venezuelan capital.
1st Iranian vessel docks in Venezuela
Monitoring website Tanker Trackers, meanwhile, tweeted that “Fortune” was docking at El Palito.
“The Iranian oil/chem Handymax tanker, FORTUNE, which loaded 43 million liters of gasoline during mid-March at Port Shahid Rajaee, Iran, has now moored at berth 2 at the refinery of El Palito, Venezuela, situated west of capital city, Caracas,” it said.
IRNA cited satellite imagery as showing that the tanker was last time seen berthing at the refinery using the assistance of two Venezuelan tow vessels shortly after midnight local time.
It confirmed that the Venezuelan navy began taking the tanker under its wing as soon as it entered the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
2nd Iran tanker nearing Venezuela
IRIB News also said a second tanker, dubbed “Forest,” was to reach Venezuela’s territorial waters in the Caribbean Sea and come under Caracas’ protection “in a few hours.” Upon arrival, the vessel would be heading towards another Venezuelan port under escort, it added.
The third of the vessels, “Faxon,” it said, would reach Venezuela’s littoral waters on Wednesday. Reuters said the two remaining vessels were currently crossing the Atlantic.
And four more tankers: the Forest, Clavel, Petunia, and Faxon are on their way.
Venezuela’s refining facilities have, according to Reuters, been operating at about 10% of their 1.3 million-barrel-per-day capacity this year under pressure from the American sanctions, forcing authorities to impose rationing at gas stations nationwide over the past two months.
The United States has repeatedly avowed its intention to oust Maduro, recognizing opposition figure Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president.
The Trump administration, that has also returned US sanctions against Iran after leaving a historic nuclear accord between the Islamic Republic and world powers, said earlier this month that it was considering “measures” to take in response to the shipments.
On Saturday, though, Rouhani warned of retaliation if Washington caused problems for the tankers.Iran will respond in kind if US makes trouble for Venezuela-bound oil tankers in Caribbean: President RouhaniPresident Rouhani says Iran will respond in kind if the US makes problems for Venezuela-bound oil tankers in the Caribbean.
A day earlier, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, had also said that the Armed Forces enjoyed full intelligence command over the United States’ military movements in and far beyond the region and would respond to any move that endangered Iranian interests at any location across the world.
Cuba blasts ‘criminal blockade’
Also on Sunday, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel highlighted the arrival of the first of the Iranian tankers in a Twitter post, hailing that the exports had broken the “unacceptable and criminal” blockade imposed by the United States on Venezuela.
“#LongLiveSolidarity among peoples,” he twitted.