The United Arab Emirates is facilitating Venezuela's criminal leadership, imperilling US influence in South America, and undermining the democratic insurgency in the oil-rich nation. For the US, even allies cannot be trusted, argues Emily Barley.

An international scandal that will worry President Biden is building, as more evidence emerges of illegal cash-for-gold transfers between Venezuela and other countries. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is said to be the nerve-centre for a scheme that netted Venezuela one billion euros in cash last year in defiance of sanctions. Professing to be a key US ally in the Middle East, UAE's helping hand for one of the world's worst authoritarian regimes should put President Biden on guard.  

The US, EU, and various other countries intensified sanctions against Venezuela in 2017 and again in 2019 after human rights abuses and anti-democratic suppression of protests by the Maduro government. First elected in 2013, Maduro is considered a dictator by the Organization of American States (OAS) due to the way in which he has prevented free and fair elections and used the tools of the state to subjugate his people and crush his opposition. Over the past few years, more than 9,000 extra-judicial murders have taken place under his orders, and thousands more people have been forced to flee the ailing country.

In addition to this reign of terror, Maduro and his cronies have been personally profiting from Venezuela's oil and illegal gold-mining operations, living handsomely while ordinary people starve. It's this theft of national wealth that sanctions against the country aim to halt, as well as forcing Maduro out of office in favour of Juan Guaidó. Guaidó is widely considered to have been the true winner of the 2019 presidential election, which was subject to widespread fraud at Maduro's hands.

Over the past six months a picture has emerged of gold being taken from Venezuela to Mali on Russian planes. Once there, stamps that marked the gold out as belonging to Venezuela were removed before being shipped to the end buyers, firms in the UAE. Experts who have investigated the situation say that the whole operation is masterminded by the UAE.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

In 2020, it was estimated that one billion euros (1.2 billion dollars) were transferred to Venezuela from the UAE in this way, feeding the brutal regime desperately needed cash and allowing Maduro to continue his luxury lifestyle while oppressing his people.

Evidence has also emerged of another UAE-led scheme to prop up Maduro – when international sanctions targeted Venezuela's oil fleet, UAE firms simply bought the ships, renamed them, and continued operations to export the country's oil.

Together, these two schemes expose the UAE as standing in defiance of international standards and norms to support the tyranny and theft perpetrated by Maduro and his associates. And though that is bad enough on its own, these actions also have much wider implications.

The UAE is an important actor in the Persian Gulf – the site of much global attention due its vast oil reserves, regional instability that shakes the world, and ongoing conflicts – and has spent many decades building its credentials as a key US ally. As a result, the US has located an important air base there and deepened economic links with the country, while American tourists have flocked to glittering Dubai.

These revelations over oil and gold have shown that in contrast to public professions by UAE that it has a close relationship with the US and the West, and aspires to one even closer, behind the scenes its leaders have been conspiring with Russia. Its illegal cash transfers to Maduro have bolstered an anti-democratic, vicious, socialist country that sits very firmly under the Russian sphere of influence, in direct defiance of American-led sanctions.

As President Biden faces an already complex situation in the Middle East and specifically in the Gulf, where countries continue to compete against each other for international friends, he ought to keep in mind that, at best, the UAE is an unreliable friend – and at worst is actively colluding with America's enemies to undermine the world order.

14 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy