By Ewan Robertson
Mérida, 1st March 2012 (Venezuelanlysis.com) – Venezuela’s oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, has confirmed that Venezuela will continue to supply Syria with oil, despite international pressure against the Assad government and other nations that maintain relations with the Arab country. Responding to criticisms in the mainstream press, Ramirez said Venezuela does not fear any possible sanctions that could result from continued trade.
“Syria is a blockaded country. If it requires diesel and we can supply it, there isn’t any reason not to,” announced the minister to the press, while making clear that Venezuela would continue to support the Syrian government, a close ally of Venezuela in the Middle East.
Conflict in Syria
The Syrian government has been embroiled in a civil conflict for the past year, with the United Nations claiming that the Assad government has used unnecessary force against peaceful protesters. Syrian government sources, however, maintain that they are responding to attempts by armed terrorist groups to forcefully overthrow the government. The official death toll on both sides is still unknown, although various estimates place it somewhere between 2000-5000 people (Click here for details).
As a result of the conflict, Syria is currently facing economic sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU), the United States, the Arab League and Turkey, who claim that they are exerting diplomatic and economic pressure on the Syrian government in order to halt its repression against the political opposition.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been a vocal supporter of a mediated resolution to the crisis, and has accused Western countries of taking advantage of political instability in the Middle East to advance its own agenda. The Venezuelan head of state has also likened the Syrian conflict to that which developed in Libya last year, where NATO forces gave logistical and economic support to an armed uprising against head of state Muammar Gaddafi.
Responding to a question on whether Venezuelan could face sanctions for continuing to send oil to Syria, Ramirez declared that, “we cannot determine our foreign policy by fear of US sanctions. We’ve said that they honestly don’t matter to us…no one is going to impose upon us from outside”.
Ramirez went on to confirm that two oil tankers of 300,000 barrels each had recently left Venezuela en route for the Arab nation.
A United Nations Security Council resolution calling for political transition in Syria was vetoed last month by Russia and China, who cited the text as “unbalanced”.
Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, further warned against members of the international community “calling for regime change, [and] pushing the oppositionists to power” in Syria.
The EU announced fresh sanctions on Monday against the Syrian central bank and regime officials, as well as halting purchases of gold and gems from the country.
In an attempt to settle the conflict, Syrians passed a new constitution by national referendum last Saturday which included provisions for the establishment of multiparty elections. According to reports by RT news, 57% of Syrians turned out to vote in the referendum, with 89% voting in favour of the government’s new proposals.
Syrian opposition groups boycotted the referendum, calling for al-Assad to stand down, while the US rejected the vote as “laughable”.
Meanwhile on Tuesday minister Ramirez denounced international sanctions as creating destabilisation in world oil markets, slamming “an offensive by the most violent consumer countries, the United States and Europe, to get easy access to the petroleum reserves of African and Arab countries”.
In May last year the US imposed sanctions against Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA for continuing to trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Venezuelan government condemned the move as an “imperialist attack” at the time and declared itself sovereign in its foreign policy decisions.
Speaking about the Syrian conflict in mid-February, Chavez emphasised that Venezuela is a “free country” that will sell oil to who is wants.