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Venezuela receives COVID-19 medical aid from Iran

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, delivers a speech during a ceremony in which he received the credential as President-elect for the 2019-2025 period in Caracas, Venezuela, May 22, 2018. (Miguel Gutierrez/EFE/ ZUMA Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Venezuela has received an air cargo shipment of aid from Iran in another sign that ties between the Islamic republic and the South American country — both targets of U.S. sanctions — are strengthening.

The flight carried humanitarian aid for COVID-19 patients, including test kits and medical supplies, Planning Minister Ricardo Menendez said.

He also said President Nicolas Maduro will visit Iran as soon as possible to thank it for the humanitarian aid and for crude oil it has recently sent to Venezuela.

Maduro had already announced plans to travel to Iran to sign energy, finance, military, agricultural, technology, and health deals.

Iran has become a crucial ally to Venezuela since Washington created a broad sanctions program against Maduro in efforts to force him from power.

Washington has long accused the Kremlin-backed Maduro of leading a corrupt and brutal regime, a charge the Venezuelan leader has rejected.

Menendez said Venezuela and Iran were establishing “a broad development agenda” against “imperialism,” which will include cooperation in the industrial, housing, and food sectors as well as scientific cooperation against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iranian Ambassador Hojatollah Soltani said he was proud of the “brotherhood” with Venezuela “while our enemies try to sanction us.”

Venezuela has confirmed 2,377 coronavirus infections and 22 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, but the real figure is believed to be considerably higher.

Health experts say Venezuela is at high risk in the epidemic due to a broad economic collapse that has severely weakened public hospitals and undermined public services.

Iran has sent five tankers full of oil to the South American country, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but is suffering from supply problems after years of mismanagement, corruption, and lack of maintenance.

The South American country’s oil industry is now barely producing any gasoline at all and has struggled to import it because sanctions have left most companies unwilling to provide it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said last week that Tehran will continue to export fuel to Venezuela if the country requests more supplies.

The United States has warned governments, seaports, shippers, and insurers that they could face measures if they aid the tankers.