Jan 12, 2006.- Today it was announced that the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez continued its program to provide relief for low income U.S. residents by delivering cheaper oil products.
Today, Maine State Governor John Baldacci, along with representatives from the state’s heating oil assistance program, signed an agreement with CITGO Petroleum Corporation, the century-old U.S. refining and retailing arm of Venezuela´s state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela - PDVSA, to provide 8 million gallons of heating oil at a 40% discount to low-income residents in the state of Maine.
This humanitarian aid will also reach four Native American tribes and homeless shelters in the state of Maine.
Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed the agreement with CITGO at the home of the Lyons, a retired couple who have raised five children of their own and has eight foster children.
“It is imperative we act to ensure our citizens are safe and warm this winter. The cost of heating oil has risen dramatically and the federal government has failed to provide the resources needed to help Maine citizens. We are grateful to CITGO and the Venezuelan government for their generosity,” Governor Baldacci said.
Under the terms of the agreement, recipients of the U.S. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will receive an additional $100 in LIHEAP benefits. These additional funds have been donated by Venezuela for distribution through LIHEAP. The amount of the donation will be equal to a 40% discount on the spot market price of 8 million gallons of heating oil.
Maine estimates that CITGO’s donation will be approximately 5.5 million dollars.
In addition, the government of Venezuela has agreed to provide 120,000 gallons of heating oil to homeless shelter in Maine. This oil will be delivered to more than 40 homeless shelters by their heating oil suppliers. Moreover, 900,000 gallons of heating oil at a 40% discount to four Native American tribes.
Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez denied that politics is behind the decision to make the donation. “Some have tried to read politics into these outreach programs”, he said. However, critics of the Venezuelan government argue that this gesture is aimed at embarrassing the U.S. government, which has ideological differences with the left-wing policies of Venezuelan President Chavez.
“This program has a human face. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a promise in New York City following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and this Maine heating oil program represents the goodwill between the people of Venezuela and the United States. Help for those who need it most is a cornerstone of the new Venezuelan economy under President Chavez, and this program, following similar ones in Massachusetts and the Bronx, is part of a new effort to increase regional integration.”
"This is about life"
“CITGO is pleased to be part of another assistance program for those in need,” said CITGO’s CEO Felix Rodriguez.
“CITGO has over 160 gas stations in Maine, and we are proud to be responsible corporate citizens in the communities in which we operate, especially when the need is great. This is not about politics, this is not about oil. This is about life, about improving the lives of poor people. This is about people helping people.”
“Thanks to Venezuela for making this help available to us,” said Maine Resident Mary Lyons.
The Government of Venezuela announced a statewide heating oil assistance program in Massachusetts on Nov. 22, and a similar program in The Bronx borough of New York on Dec. 6, 2005. Discussions for further expansion of the program are underway in several other states, including Delaware, Vermont, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Last week, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the entity in charge of the city of Chicago´s public transportation, rejected an offer from CITGO to provide discounted diesel for its fleet of public buses. However, faced with a 17 million budget deficit, and under pressure from local and Illinois state politicians and community leaders, the CTA agreed to sit down with CITGO to find ways to accept the fuel. To cover for the deficit, the CTA had authorized an increase in cash bus fares, which went into effect in recent weeks.
“If other major cities are working with CITGO to reduce the strain of skyrocketing energy prices this winter, why is the CTA leaving Chicago out in the cold?” U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez asked at a press conference.
CITGO and Chicago officials will meet again before the end of January.
Given the record profits made by oil companies, last year, a group of U.S. senators urged 10 major oil companies to donate a portion of their profits to help the poor. So far, only CITGO has responded.
According to an article by USA Today, U.S. President George Bush praised CITGO´s aid efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "The good works of CITGO demonstrate the character and great strength of our nation," Bush wrote CITGO Sept. 27.
Both the U.S. State Department and the Energy Department have provided tacit support for CITGO´s efforts. State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli provided no objections to the CITGO's offers at a Dec 8 briefing.
U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said that the U.S. government has no problems with Venezuela's offer. "We view it, as corporate philanthropy. We're all for that. Nobody in the Energy Department, or in the government for that matter, is going oppose that. If that's what Mr. Chavez and his colleagues who own CITGO choose to do, I'm certainly not going to criticize," Bodman told CNN Dec 9.