Time reports that U.S. families in search of affordable heating oil are finding it in the strangest of places–a program run by Citgo that makes 40% discounts available to low-income Americans. Citgo is owned by PDV America, Inc., an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Congressional conservatives feel U.S. cities should not be helping improve the image of Chavez, one of President Bush’s most strident critics. But U.S. Representative, Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia, says, “The U.S. buys 1.5 million barrels of oil from Venezuela each day at full price, so why would anyone complain about getting some at almost half price?”
Philadelphia, Boston, the Bronx and cities in Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island have received a total of 45 million gallons of the subsidized Citgo fuel, and other cities are slated for another 5 million soon. That’s a small percentage of the heating oil Venezuela exports to the U.S. each year, but Citgo says it has set aside about 10% of its refined petroleum products for the program. Says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, D.C., “Unfortunately for the Bush Administration, Chavez is proving to be a more inventive thinker in terms of hemispheric politics.”
Critics suggest Chavez’s oil diplomacy is simply a ploy to take consumers’ minds off of record high oil prices, which are partly a result of his efforts to rebuild the power of OPEC, of which Venezuela is a founding member.
Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez, one of the program’s architects says the Citgo program does give Chavez a chance to showcase “one of our revolution’s most important principles: the redistribution of oil revenues, especially for the poor.”
Alvarez, also says the Citgo program is proof that Chavez’s revolution is still fond of Americans, if not their government.