Prepare your final farewells to the already tenuous Monroe Doctrine.
Earlier this week, an Iranian oil tanker, the Starla, docked in Venezuela to deliver 2 million barrels of condensate. The Starla belongs to the National Iranian Oil Company, which is sanctioned due to its support for the IRGC’s Quds force. The shipment happened without a peep from American leadership.
Marking the rogues’ first oil shipment of 2022, the deal is part of a long line of illicit trades between the two nations. Iran has been selling condensate to Venezuela in exchange for crude oil, allowing both nations to keep their heavily sanctioned energy sectors afloat.
Thanks to trade with Iran, as of January, Venezuela has doubled its oil production, raising its GDP for the first time in six years. None of this is trickling down to the Venezuelan people, with over 90 percent of them living in poverty. Oil profits go directly to lining the pockets of corrupt socialist officials, funneled through the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
The rogues may be trading more than oil. This past June, Iran sent two oil frigates to Venezuela carrying fast-attack boats and suspected missiles. There’s also been speculation of Iranian weapons in Venezuela, with Nicolás Maduro publicly saying that acquiring Iranian missiles would be a “good thing.”
Though the Trump administration failed to keep Iran out of Venezuela, they did uphold U.S. sanctions, seizing oil shipments en route to Venezuela in 2019. The current administration has done no such thing, further emboldening adversaries to defy an imaginary rules-based order.
I’ll give (a little) credit: The Biden administration issued a warning to Venezuela and Cuba, prohibiting them from providing a dock for the June shipments. While that was enough to redirect the frigates, it did nothing to stop subsequent shipments in violation of U.S. sanctions. And it certainly doesn’t make up for Biden’s nonexistent Venezuela policy.
Biden’s approach to Venezuela has been markedly weak, allowing U.S. adversaries to use the failing state as a point of presence in our own hemisphere.
Back in September, Maduro’s socialist regime commenced negotiations with the American-backed opposition led by Juan Guaidó. While Russia readily stepped up as Maduro’s main facilitator, the U.S. turned down the opposition, leaving the task to the Netherlands. Apparently Washington didn’t want a Cold War situation, with Russia on one side of the negotiating table and the U.S. on the other.
Biden has also failed to appoint a new special representative to Venezuela, leaving Juan Guaidó’s democratic opposition without an advocate in Washington.
Back to Iran. The Biden administration may be taking a soft approach to deliver on one of its big campaign promises: striking a nuclear deal. As discussions carry on in Vienna, Western negotiators are pushing hard for a mid-February conclusion. Though negotiations have been slow, officials have reported progress on outlining terms that limit Iran’s nuclear program and peel back sanctions. Oh, the irony! Iran continually exceeds its enrichment limits, evades IAEA inspections, and very openly flaunts trade sanctions. Did I mention their breakout time is down to a couple weeks?
Under these circumstances, Iran and Venezuela are seeing just how far they can push the White House.
Aside from their shady trading, the countries are on the cusp of formalizing their relationship, a move that would solidify Iran’s presence in the Western Hemisphere. This December, Maduro announced a visit to Iran that will likely finalize a 20-year cooperation accord, formalizing their economic and security relationship. Venezuela’s foreign minister Felix Plasencia said that the accord is a chance to defy U.S. leadership and collaborate against “those who wish to harm” them.
If Biden continues to live in diplomatic denial, Venezuela will become a permanent playground for U.S. adversaries.