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White House Livid as Venezuela's Populist President Ships Millions of Gallons of Discounted CITGO Heating Oil to Low-Income Communities in U.S.

From: <www.commondreams.org>

Published on Tuesday, November 22, 2005 by the New York Daily News
Oil For Bronx Poor is a Foreign Gift
Santa Claus, make way for Santa Chavez
by Juan Gonzalez

Poor residents and nonprofit groups in the South Bronx are about to receive
a huge Christmas gift from Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez:
Eight-million gallons of heating oil at bargain-basement prices.
Two months ago, in an interview with the Daily News during his visit to the
United Nations, Chavez first made the startling offer of cheap fuel for this
winter from his oil-rich country to a handful of poor communities in the
United States.

At the time, critics of the radical populist Chavez, the Bush
administration's biggest nemesis in South America, scoffed at his proposal.
But the Venezuelan leader is about to deliver.

"The first shipments of low-cost fuel from CITGO will begin arriving in my
district by late next week," U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-South Bronx) said
yesterday.

CITGO, the Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela's national oil company,
owns 14,000 gas stations and eight refineries in the U.S. Because of that,
Chavez has a ready-made distribution system and doesn't need any special
approvals from the White House for his project.

"My constituents are facing some of the highest energy bills in recent
history, even as oil companies are reporting the largest profits in recent
memory," Serrano said. "I'm very pleased to have helped broker this historic
agreement."

The Bronx congressman has been working feverishly for weeks to connect local
nonprofit groups with CITGO and Venezuelan government officials. The South
Bronx plan is similar to one announced yesterday in Boston for CITGO to
supply 12 million gallons of discounted heating oil to 45,000 low-income
families and nonprofits in Massachusetts.

Under the Chavez plan, CITGO will sell oil for way below the market price -
about $1.35 a gallon instead of the current average of $2.25. The average
Massachusetts homeowner would save about $180 for each 200-gallon shipment,
enough to last about three weeks.

But the South Bronx project is a little more complicated because so many
low-income residents live in rental apartments instead of individual homes.
"The Venezuelans want to make sure landlords don't pocket all the savings,"
Serrano said.

You can be sure, if there's a way to do so, New York City landlords will
find it.

That's why Serrano recruited several local nonprofit housing corporations to
be the first to join the discount-fuel program.

To assure that the bulk of savings are passed on to residents, not just to
the nonprofit corporation, lawyers for CITGO are working out a pilot effort
in which every renter will receive a cash voucher equal to the average fuel
savings for each unit in the building.

"The idea is to make sure the financial help goes directly to the poor, not
the middle man," Serrano said.

Details are still being ironed out by lawyers for all sides, Serrano said,
which is why he will not announce the specific housing groups and buildings
to receive the first fuel shipments until a press conference late next week.
"We'll start with a few groups, then expand it throughout the winter,"
Serrano said. Homeowners aren't the only ones eligible: Even schools in
low-income areas could apply for the program.

In his interview with me two months ago, Chavez vowed to set aside 10% of
all the oil that CITGO refineries produce for his oil-for-the-poor program.
His government is already directing hundreds of millions of dollars from its
windfall petroleum profits to expand social programs for Venezuela's own
poor, and it has begun providing cheap oil to more than a dozen poor
Caribbean nations.

To the people at the Bush White House and their buddies at the Big Oil
companies, sharing the wealth with those less fortunate is a dangerous idea.
Santa Claus is for children, they say, and profits are for shareholders, and
this Chavez guy is giving oil a bad name.

Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. Email: jgonzalez@
edit.nydailynews.com.
© 2005 New York Daily News