June 15, 2020 / 2:11 PM / a month ago

Mexican president says he would sell gasoline to Venezuela for humanitarian needs if asked

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he would sell gasoline to Venezuela for “humanitarian” reasons if asked to, despite U.S. sanctions on the South American country and its state-run oil firm, PDVSA.

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Lopez Obrador said he had not received such a request from the Venezuelan government.

President Donald Trump’s administration wants to choke Venezuelan oil exports to starve the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro of its main source of revenue.

In recent years, PDVSA has exchanged Venezuelan crude for imported fuel. But those swaps have been declining since the Trump administration imposed sanctions on PDVSA in January 2019.

Iran, which is also under sanctions, sent a flotilla of five cargoes of gasoline and components to Venezuela through early June, despite criticism from Washington.

Lopez Obrador said Mexico could also send gasoline to Venezuela under the right circumstances.

“If a request were made and it was a matter of humanitarian need, we would do it,” he told his regular morning news conference.

Saying that Mexico was an independent country, he added: “We make our own decisions and do not mess with the policies of other countries.”

Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister, said Lopez Obrador’s comments would likely “raise eyebrows” in the United States. Still, it remained to be seen whether the remarks were just rhetoric, he added.

The United States and dozens of other nations regard Maduro and his government as illegitimate because of a 2018 election widely seen as fraudulent. Maduro has accused Washington of orchestrating a coup to remove him to gain control of the South American nation’s oil reserves.

Lopez Obrador has said he would not take sides in the dispute.

The United States, which did not hinder Iran’s tanker cargoes but could punish firms related to the trade, is considering sanctions on dozens of foreign oil tankers that have transported Venezuelan oil.

Iran plans to maintain fuel shipments to Venezuela, sources said. Tehran could send two to three gasoline cargoes a month to its Latin American ally, they said.

Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga and Dave Graham in Mexico City and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney

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