Sunday, February 19, 2012

Venezuela ships fuel to war-torn Syria

(Reuters) - The government of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is emerging as a rare supplier of diesel to Syria, potentially undermining Western sanctions and helping the Syrian government fuel its military in the middle of a bloody crackdown on civilian protests.

A cargo of diesel, which can be used to fuel army tanks or as heating fuel, was expected to arrive at Syria's Mediterranean port of Banias this week, according to two traders and shipping data. The cargo could be worth up to $50 million.

Chavez is a vociferous advocate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who face pressure from Western sanctions. Few leaders on the world stage have polarized opinion as sharply as the Venezuelan president.

Chavez, who still defends the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, has repeatedly backed Arab leaders who have faced a year-long wave of popular protests, which have already toppled four governments.

Asked on Thursday about the shipments to Syria and whether they could be used for military purposes, Chavez said Venezuela never asked the United States what it did with the fuel that Venezuela sold it, and that no one could dictate to Caracas.

"We are free. We are a free country," he said, standing with his friend Sean Penn, the U.S. actor, who is visiting Venezuela. Read More