A force of US vessels, including Navy destroyers and other combat ships, patrol the Caribbean on what US officials call a drug interdiction mission. Venezuelan officials paint them as a threat, but US officials have not announced any plans to intercept the Iranian tankers, or threatened to try that. Both countries have been hit with US economic sanctions.
The 5 Iranian tankers now on the high seas are expected to start arriving to Venezuela in the coming days. They are carrying gasoline to help alleviate days-long lines at service stations even in Caracas, which had normally been immune to shortages as the capital and seat of political power.
In addition to sending the tankers, Iran has flown in shipments of a chemical needed to restart an aging Venezuelan oil refinery with the goal of producing gasoline.
While Venezuela sits atop the world's largest oil reserves, its oil production has plummeted in the last 2 decades, which critics blame on corruption and mismanagement under socialist rule. Recent US sanctions designed to force