Chavez’ Surprise for Bush

Worried about the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and heating oil this winter? Well, Hugo Chavez, the firebrand president of oil-rich Venezuela, wants to help.

Worried about the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and heating oil this winter?

Well, Hugo Chavez, the firebrand president of oil-rich Venezuela, wants to help.

Chavez, a former army officer twice elected president in huge landslides, has become a target of the Bush administration for his radical social policies.

Last month, right-wing evangelist Pat Robertson openly urged his assassination.

But now Chavez is firing back at Bush and Robertson with a surprise weapon – cheap oil for America’s poor.

In an exclusive interview yesterday, the Venezuelan leader said his country will soon start to ship heating oil and diesel fuel at below market prices to poor communities and schools in the United States.

“We will begin with a pilot project in Chicago on Oct. 14, in a Mexican-American community,” said Chavez, who was in town for the United Nations sessions. “We will then expand the program to New York and Boston in November.”

The first New York neighborhood in the program will be the South Bronx, where Chavez was to speak today as a guest of Rep. Jose Serrano.

The Venezuelan leader revealed details of the new oil-for-the-poor program during a wide-ranging interview at the upper East Side home of his country’s UN ambassador.

“If you want to eliminate poverty, you have to empower the poor, not treat them as beggars,” Chavez said.

During the hour-long interview, he also blasted the Iraq war; accused Bush of trying to kill him to reassert U.S. control over Venezuela’s oil; offered support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina; and lampooned the UN as out of touch with the world’s poor.

Echoing his favorite American writer, radical linguist Noam Chomsky, Chavez warned that “Americans must reorder their style of life” because “this planet cannot sustain” our “irrational” consumption, especially when it comes to oil.

Much of what Chavez said he has expressed before.

But his novel oil-for-the-poor idea in this country is sure to make him an even bigger target of the Bush administration.

Those who scoff at this as a publicity scam should think twice.

With the price of oil at record levels, the Chavez government is swimming in cash.

Those sky-high fuel prices are bound to have a drastic impact on low-income neighborhoods here, especially since Congress redirected much of this winter’s usual energy assistance program for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Venezuela, on the other hand, owns a key U.S. subsidiary called Citgo Petroleum Corp., which has 14,000 gas stations and owns eight oil refineries in this country, none of which was damaged by Katrina.

Chavez said he can afford to sharply reduce Citgo’s prices by “cutting out the middle man.”

His plan is to set aside 10% of the 800,000 barrels of oil produced by the Citgo refineries and ship that oil directly to schools, religious organizations and nonprofits in poor communities for distribution.

The same approach, he said, has worked in the Caribbean, where Venezuela is already sharply subsidizing oil deliveries to more than a dozen nations.

Cutting oil prices must seem like the worst sort of radicalism to the Big Oil companies and their buddies at the Bush-Cheney White House.

But ordinary Americans fed up with price gouging by these energy companies could begin to look at Chavez in a different light if his oil-for-the-poor project works.

Still, Chavez, warns, we must all think about the future. Americans are 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world’s oil.

On his drive from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan this week, Chavez noted, “Out of every 100 cars I saw on the road, 99 had only one person in the car.

“These people were using up fuel,” he said. “They were polluting the environment. This planet cannot sustain that mode of life.”

That’s the kind of message that can get a man killed these days – or at least labeled a dangerous madman by folks in the White House.