CARACAS – Venezuela received an initial shipment of gold reserves held in European banks amid a large security operation involving 500 men, armored vehicles and aircraft.
“We’re returning the gold they took out of our country in the past,” the president of Venezuela’s central bank, Nelson Merentes, told state-run media, calling the transfer “historic.”
The gold was received at the Maiquetia international airport outside the Venezuelan capital and taken under heavy security to the bank’s headquarters in downtown Caracas.
Merentes did not specify the exact amount of gold that was shipped, but said several tons would be deposited in vaults “where they had been kept in the past.”
The official said “nearly 85 percent” of the gold currently held in banks outside of Venezuela will be repatriated, adding that “we’re going to bring more than 160 tons of monetary gold, gold bars.”
The shipment was covered in black plastic and loaded onto several armored vehicles that made their way by caravan to the Venezuelan capital.
The head of the armed forces’ operational strategic command, General Rangel Silva, said members of the central bank’s security team, as well as armed forces and state security personnel, participated in the operation.
The “transfer of this gold from the country of origin to here complied with all the security protocols,” Rangel Silva said, adding that around 500 heavily armed men, as well as aircraft, armored vehicles and tanks, were involved in safeguarding the shipment.
"Each box of gold weighs 500 kilograms and is worth about $30 million," Merentes told the gathered crowds. "We'll bring the rest back little by little."
President Hugo Chavez announced in August that Venezuela would remove its international gold reserves from the United States and Europe and place them in countries with “solid” economies like China, Russia and Brazil.
“It’s a healthy move for the country to bring that gold ... actually I think we’ve waited a long time; the economies of Europe and the United States are sinking and now it’s evident how solid the Chinese, the Russian and other countries’ (economies) are ... Brazil,” the socialist president, who has long been at loggerheads with the United States, said then.
Venezuela holds some $27.9 billion in foreign reserves, according to the central bank’s latest figures.
The South American country, which has the 15th largest gold holdings in the world according to the World Gold Council, held 211 tons of its 365 tons of gold reserves in US, European, Canadian and Swiss Banks until August.