At first glance they seem like an odd couple.
However, Turkey – a Mediterranean power that is often irritated by what it calls Western interventionism – and Venezuela, a Caribbean nation rich in oil and gold but in perpetual crisis and under US sanctions, have a few things at stake. common.
There are economic links; the murkier aspects have drawn scrutiny from the US Treasury Department. They stand in solidarity in their anti-American discourse, even though the United States is one of Turkey’s main trading partners. The personal relationship between the rulers of Venezuela and Turkey is warm, forged in part by words of mutual solidarity during internal attempts to oust them from power.
That alliance was manifested on Tuesday with the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Caracas to sign agreements and commemorate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
“There will be no sanctions, no blockade, or any type of situation that prevents us from continuing to deepen our integral relationship, and our economic and commercial relationship in particular,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in a joint press conference with Cavusoglu.
The Turkish diplomat, who visited the Dominican Republic and Haiti before arriving in Caracas, said that his meetings in Venezuela focused on agriculture, construction, tourism, education and medical assistance. Despite the pandemic, the volume of trade between Turkey and Venezuela tripled in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2019, Cavusoglu noted without mentioning specific figures.
“We must continue,” declared the Turkish minister. He indicated to Arreaza that Turkish Airlines intends to become the first airline to resume flights to Caracas “when you open your airport.”
The main international airport closed to passenger flights due to the pandemic, although the number of airlines operating there had declined for years as the country fell into crisis. The economy deteriorated, political conflict and human rights abuses intensified, millions fled Venezuela, and US sanctions practically paralyzed its iconic oil industry, which had already struggled before.
Along with Russia and China, Turkey is among the small number of countries that are a lifeline for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has repelled attempts by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to depose him. The United States has made it increasingly difficult for those countries to do business with Venezuela, as happened last week when it seized the cargo of four ships allegedly carrying Iranian fuel to Venezuela. Iran said the United States had no right to confiscate shipments in international waters.
The U.S. Treasury Department has also expressed concern about gold that Venezuela says it flew to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Since the beginning of 2018, when its foreign reserves were depleted, Venezuela began selling gold to pay for contracts, including some for a food distribution network that was used to carry out acts of corruption in a plot allegedly headed by relatives of Maduro, the department said.
A company based in Turkey and managed by Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman linked to Maduro’s circle, “bought goods in Turkey on behalf of Venezuelan clients, raising prices before selling them back to Venezuela,” the department said last year. .
Saab was arrested in June in Cape Verde on his way to Iran and has challenged his extradition to the United States. The Maduro government said the businessman was traveling to Iran on a “humanitarian mission” to buy food and medical supplies.
Maduro, who peppers his speeches with socialist rhetoric, claims that the US pressure amounts to an attempted coup. His personal relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began when he expressed his solidarity after the Turkish ruler survived a coup attempt by a group of military men in 2016. Erdogan returned the favor when Guaidó, whose movement is currently inactive, staged a intense campaign against Maduro.
However, Turkey continues to operate within US restrictions. Last year, Turkish bank Ziraat stopped working with Venezuela’s central bank due to US sanctions.
“Therefore, the punitive measures of the United States that increase the cost of Turkey’s relations with Venezuela could force Erdogan to reduce his support for Maduro,” even if he continues to censor US policy towards Venezuela, wrote former Turkish diplomat Imdat Oner. In an analysis for the Washington-based Wilson Center, Oner described the relationship between Turkey and Venezuela as “an alliance of convenience.”