Caracas, Venezuela, April 26, 2006—Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez announced that the program that provides discounted heating oil to numerous poor communities in the U.S. Northeast will be continued next year. Also, Chavez proposed a new phase of the program, which would help provide employment opportunities in beneficiary communities. Chavez made the announcement during an event on Monday evening, in which he met with a delegation of 80 heating oil program beneficiaries.
The event, which was sponsored by Citgo, the wholly owned subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA, gave beneficiaries of the heating oil program an opportunity to tell the President about their personal circumstance and how they have benefited from Citgo’s heating oil program.
Donna Santiago, a single mother of two from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said, “The United States is a rich and powerful country. However, the assistance that is provided is bureaucratic and inefficient and is often unavailable. Contrast this to my experience with Citgo and PDVSA, which restored dignity and hope to low-income people.”
Currently Citgo provides a 40% discount on heating oil to poor communities in seven states in the U.S., such as Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York, and has benefited over 180,000 households.
Venezuela’s Citgo initiated the heating oil program late last year, in an effort to help low-income families in the U.S. to cope with the cold winter and high oil costs. The Venezuelan government says the program costs Citgo relatively little because the oil is being supplied directly, without middlemen, who usually make substantial profits.
Chavez said that the program was not designed to buy support in the U.S., as many critics claimed, but it is rather an example of corporate responsibility because Citgo, which is now making large profits in the U.S., is now giving back to communities in which it does business. “Citgo has done good business in the U.S. We believe companies, along with making a profit need to have social responsibilities for the people they sell to,” said Chavez. Chavez pointed out that in the 20 years Venezuela has owned Citgo, it never paid dividends to the Venezuelan state. Only in 2004 and 2005 has it begun to repatriate some of its profits to Venezuela.
Also, the program is an example of his government’s efforts to move towards socialism, in which countries relate to each other on the basis of cooperation, solidarity, and complementarity.
The program will be continued next year, said Chavez. “No one should believe that this is just a momentary interest … Leave at ease and tell your neighbors of the communities you represent that the program will continue; it has just begun,” said Chavez to the gathered representatives. For next year the volume of the program would be doubled, from the current level of 40 million gallons.
Halfway through the event, Chavez said it occurred to him that the heating oil program could enter into a new phase, whereby, in addition to the 40% discount, only 30% would go towards Citgo’s expenses and the remaining 30% would be set aside for a special local development fund, to help unemployed in the communities to set up cooperatives. The products of such cooperatives could then be sold to Venezuela, suggested Chavez.
Former Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy, who was present at the event and who had helped facilitate the heating oil program in Boston via his Citizens Energy Corporation, immediately applauded the idea. “This concept allows families to work out of poverty; it helps them by giving them the tools such as money to build a roof over their head, instead of just a one-shot benefit,” said Kennedy.
Representatives of various Native American Indian tribes were also present at the event, since they too are part of the heating oil program in Maine. James Sappier a chief of the Penobscot tribe, presented Chavez with a prayer staff and eagle feather, the highest honor of the Penobscot tribe. “We want to thank you personally for what you’re doing for people,” said Sappier.