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Gideon Long in Bogotá

The first of five ships laden with Iranian petrol crossed in to Venezuelan waters on Sunday in defiance of US sanctions, after Tehran and Caracas warned Washington over any attempt to intercept them.

The ships set off from the Middle East in March and April. Iranian-flagged Fortune, the first to reach Venezuelan territorial waters, headed towards refineries in the west, escorted by ships from the Venezuelan navy.

Venezuela is desperately short of petrol despite sitting on the world’s biggest oil reserves. Its refineries have largely collapsed after years of mismanagement and it is struggling to import petrol due to US sanctions designed to push socialist president Nicolás Maduro from power.

Iran is labouring under similar sanctions but has a surplus of petrol due to the global economic crash caused by coronavirus.