By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- In only a few weeks Iran has sent the embattled Nicolas Maduro regime gasoline to assuage a shortage, spare parts to repair refineries and chemical components to manufacture the key fuel. This week they also sent a tanker that can carry 22,800 tons, saying it was food for the country's first Iranian supermarket.
Analysts also think that the ship was carrying heavy parts necessary to repair Venezuela's dilapidated refineries.
And, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi on Thursday, cooperation will continue or even increase between the two heavily sanctioned nations.
"The desperate measures of the U.S. against Iranian nationals, such as the one announced by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also known as the Secretary of Hate, is a sign of the failure of the so-called 'maximum pressure'," Mousavi stated, according to Iran news agency IRNA.
"Despite the pressure from the US, Iran and Venezuela remain firm in their fight against the illegal US sanctions," he said.
Maduro’s importing of Iranian gasoline marks the first time in history in which Iran exports gasoline to Latin America. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and six refineries, but years of mismanagement have allowed the oil industry to fall into steep disrepair and state oil company PDVSA has not manufactured gasoline since January.
The gasoline sent by Iran is being sold by the Maduro regime in dollars, at US-equivalent prices of $0.50 per liter. Those that want cheaper, subsidized gasoline need to show proof of allegiance to the ruling PSUV party, wait days in a long line and can only load 120 liters a month, or three full tanks.
But besides the fuel, Iran is expressing its support for Maduro in other, eyebrow-raising ways, such as starting a huge Iranian supermarket
The supermarket Megasis will take over a huge space that initially housed French-Colombian Costco-like Exitos Hypermarkets. Chavez nationalized Exitos and the space became a government-subsidized Bicentenarrio Supermarket. When the state coffers ran dry, it became a CLAP supermarket -- except no relation to the real Venezuela government subsidized-Clap food boxes provided to government loyalists all over the country.
Well, one relation to the government Clap -- it was reportedly owned by Alex Saab, a Colombian man often described as James Bond of money laundering.A SUPERMARKET WITH HISTORY
After Caracas Capital and the Associated Press broke the news of the incoming Iranian cargo freighter Golson, the Iranian Embassy in Caracas tweeted: “Tomorrow (Sunday, June 21) the ship Golsan will arrive to bring food to inaugurate the first Iranian supermarket in Venezuela. Another success in the friendly and fraternal relations between two countries” using the hashtag #IranyVenezuela.
Caracas newspaper “Tal Cual” reported that “supervisors of the CLAP branch of Terrazas del Avila have already been informed that next month the supermarket will open as Megasis and that the new owners are Iranians.”
The “Tiendas CLAP” supermarket was managed until March by Salva Foods, one of Saab’s companies in Venezuela and will now be “Megasis”, the nation’s first “Iranian” supermarket.
Banners for canned tuna and tomato paste from “Delnoosh”, an Iranian alimentary brand, and “Varamin” (also, the name of a city in Iran) cooking oil are now up at the site, replacing the “CLAP” and “Salva Foods” signs.
An internet search reveals that “Megasis, C. A.” is registered with the National Integrated Customs and Tax Administration Service (Seniat) under RIF J500238703 and under the category of economic activity "other service activities" and nothing else.
Megasis and the brands it is advertising Delnoosh are actually owned by a subsidiary of the Iranian military.
Saab had the store since an official decree in 2018, and the Terrazas location became a “Tiendas CLAP” in early 2019.
Saab was not yet a “red alert” Interpol fugitive, but merely a shady Colombian businessman who had appeared publicly with Hugo Chavez and Maduro several times, always smiling, always signing new business deals.
CLAP was also the name of the subsidized food scheme the U.S. accuses Saab of using to launder hundreds of millions for Maduro. The Interpol red notice posted by U.S. authorities states that Saab can get up to 20 years for that crime.
The “Tiendas CLAP” took over the whole “Abastos Bicentenarios” chain of supermarkets Chavez founded in 2010, to commemorate the bicentennial of Venezuela’s Independence. Before being a “Bicentenario”, Saab’s “CLAP” it was a branch of the Colombian “Exito” megastores Chavez nationalized in 2010. Chavez even held a televised public event announcing the “Exito” nationalization from this same location.
Meanwhile, Saab languishes in a Cape Verde prison. He has been jailed for two weeks now and on Tuesday a Cape Verde judge denied his habeas corpus request and opened the way for extradition to the U.S.
Saab had been travelling between Iran and Venezuela when his jet stopped for fuel in Cape Verde and he was detained at the request of the United States, which intends to extradite him to face charges (and questioning) in the U.S.A.