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Venezuela shipping oil to Syria in spite of sanctions

The Americas Post - This ship carries Venezuelan diesel to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is sending fuel to Syria, a move that could undermine the impact of international sanctions against Damascus and prop up a government engaged in bloody clashes with civilian demonstrators.

A shipment of low-sulfur diesel on board the tanker Black Hippolyta, Venezuelan flagged and operated by a subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), was scheduled to arrive at the Mediterranean port of Banias this week, according to two traders who provided shipping data on condition of anonymity.

According to one source, this is the second shipment of fuel to Syria from Venezuela’s Puerto la Cruz refinery since late November.

“The ship loaded low sulfur diesel in Puerto la Cruz for 15 to 17 days or so,” said a trader associated with PDVSA.

Chavez, a staunch enemy of Washington, supported Arab leaders repeatedly hit by protests last year.

He defended former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who increasingly face sanctions from the West.

Human rights groups say nearly 6,000 people have died in attacks by Syrian security forces against protesters who oppose al-Assad, sparking condemnation from Western powers and their neighbors in the Arab League.

The U.S. and Europe are pressuring al-Assad to abandon power, while Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution urging resignation of the Syrian leader.

On Thursday, during a visit by U.S. actor Sean Penn to Venezuela, Chavez said his country is “free” to send fuel wherever he wants.

“Have we asked what America does with the fuel that we send? Have we agreed for anyone to impose conditions on selling oil to the U.S.? Nobody in this world, we are free. We are a free country,” the socialist president said.

The Venezuelan ship was last seen off Cyprus on its way to Banias, where it was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday, according to vessel tracking firm AIS ship. Although Syria is an oil exporter, it imports about 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diesel to offset the shortfall in refining capacity. Diplomats argue that the deficit derives from increased military demand, while the government says that attacks on pipelines and other facilities have hurt production.

Syrian Minister of Mines and Minerals Sufian Al-Allaw, said last month that Damascus was looking for new partners to meet demand and that 240,000 barrels of diesel were on their way. Caracas and Damascus have a growing trade relationship that began in 2010 with the signing of several agreements, including one to supply 20,000 barrels per day of diesel to Damascus.

While there is an embargo on direct fuel sales to Syria, the state oil company Sytrol, responsible for organizing imports and exports of fuel, is blacklisted of U.S. and European Union.

The United States last year imposed a set of sanctions on Venezuela for trading with Iran, which received several shipments of gasoline as part of a supply contract signed between Chavez and Ahmadinejad.

But the sanctions were not effective, and seen more as a threat than a real intention to stop massive Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S.

As with Iran, analysts have warned of potential consequences for Venezuela’s failure to comply with sanctions against Syria. “If you violate any of the sanctions imposed by the United States you cannot continue trading with the U.S.,” said one source. “At least the vessel can not visit the United States, but that wouldn’t happen anyway,” he noted.