Venezuela gets its first shipment of gold bars back from Europe President Hugo Chávez has ordered almost all of the country's foreign bullion reserves to be repatriated from western banks The Guardian, Saturday 26 November 2011 Article history Vehicles carrying gold bars drive past Miraflores Palace in Caracas. Photograph: Reuters A first shipment of gold bars arrived in Venezuela on Friday after President Hugo Chávez ordered almost all of the country's foreign bullion reserves to be repatriated from western bank vaults. Experts have cautioned that the operation, which will eventually transport more than 160 tonnes of ingots worth more than $11bn (£7.1bn) to Venezuela – will be risky, slow and expensive. Central bank chief Nelson Merentes did not say how much gold was brought back in the first shipment. The bars were unloaded at Maiquetia international airport, driven across the runway and packed on to pallets with an armed soldier riding on top, before being transferred to several grey armoured cars for the journey to Caracas. "They say Chávez is going to take the gold … and give it to Cuba as a gift," the president chuckled yesterday, mocking rivals who accuse him of planning to sell the ingots to fill his warchest ahead of next year's presidential election. "It's coming to the place it never should have left … the vaults of the Central Bank of Venezuela, not the bank of London or the bank of the United States," he said. "It's our gold." A senior government source involved in transporting the bars, which amount to 90% of Venezuela's gold held abroad, has said they will be shipped in several cargo flights before the end of the year. "The gold comes from European countries," Merentes told reporters at the airport. "We cannot give exact dates [for the arrival of the other gold] due to questions of security. When we bring the last shipment, the people will learn about it." Chávez announced the repatriation in August as a sovereign step that would help protect Venezuela's foreign reserves from economic turbulence in the US and Europe. It also was seen as a populist measure ahead of next October's election, when the socialist leader will seek another six-year term. Next year's vote is likely to be contentious, and some critics suggest Chávez is worried about Venezuela's foreign reserves being frozen - as happened to Muammar Gaddafi. The repatriattion also reduces the risk of assets seizures related to arbitration cases, including those linked to the nationalisation of oil projects run by big US companies.