Oct 11 2018

Turkey keeping Maduro regime afloat in exchange for Venezuelan gold - Bloomberg

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s relationship with Turkey made headlines last month after his visit to the restaurant owned by Turkish social media sensation Salt Bae in Istanbul, where he dined like a king, sparked international protests pointing out the abject conditions suffered by Venezuelans back home, where an economic crisis has left many short of food.

The Maduro administration’s relationship with Turkey, however, goes much deeper, and Turkey has been supplying just enough staple goods to keep the authoritarian regime afloat in exchange for a wealth of Venezuelan resources, including vast quantities of gold, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

“Turkish products—pasta, rice, and corn flour—fill the heavily discounted food packets Venezuelan officials use to maintain political fealty among the increasingly cash-strapped citizenry,” said journalists Ethan Bronner and Andrew Rosatti in their report.

Meanwhile, Turkey is setting up joint ventures with the Venezuelan government for gold and coal exploration and has started investing in the country’s oil industry.

Gold – worth $834 million in the first 7 months of 2018 alone – is being shipped to Turkey for refinement and procession, and U.S. officials have said some may be making its way to Iran from there, a contravention of sanctions.

Turkey has already been in hot water for breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran, with the Turkish executive of the state-owned Halkbank sentenced this year for his part in what has been described as the largest sanctions-busting scheme ever. Halkbank is still awaiting what is expected to be a hefty fine for its part in the scheme.

U.S. Assistant Treasury Secretary Marshall Billingslea has already singled out Venezuela’s gold mines, which are reportedly run under military supervision or by criminal gangs, as “illicit,” and told the United Nations last month the United States is “keenly interested in where the gold from these strip mines is going.”

A U.S. official quoted by Bloomberg said that if Venezuelan gold is being conveyed to Iran, it could be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s way of “deliberately taunting” the United States since relations between the two countries have been severely strained this year.

Meanwhile, one of Turkey’s two top business associations, MÜSİAD, has established offices in the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas this year, and the pro-government group’s efforts have reportedly resulted in a growth in trade.

“If I had my way, Venezuela and Turkey would wed … Turkey has the businesses and the know-how, Venezuela the minerals and resources. Turkey and Venezuela have the same enemy, the United States, which attacks everyone,” MÜSİAD’s Venezuela representative Hayri Küçükyavuz was quoted as saying.

Carlos Romero, a political scientist at Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, told Bloomberg the trade has become a kind of “humanitarian channel” from Turkey providing Maduro’s government with enough food and medicine to keep it from being forced to turn to the West or the UN.

“The Turkish aid will never be enough, but it helps to maintain the regime in power. The central thesis right now is: ‘How do we survive?’ ” queried Romero.

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