News from Around the Americas | November 2005
|Fuel Pact Defended at Local Signing|
Raja Mishra - Boston Globe
Local legislators and Venezuelan officials yesterday vigorously defended an agreement that will bring discounted heating oil to more than 40,000 low-income Massachusetts residents courtesy of a Latin American leader engaged in an acerbic public campaign against President Bush and US foreign policy.
|Joseph P. Kennedy II, chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corp, right, carries a fuel oil hose to the home of Linda and Paul Kelley in Quincy, Mass. (AP/Charles Krupa)|
The deal, signed yesterday in a Quincy couple's front yard, will provide more than 12 million gallons of heating oil from Venezuela, with each qualifying household eligible to buy up to 200 gallons, enough to last several weeks, at a 40 percent discount. The Quincy couple, Linda and Paul Kelly, were the first beneficiaries of the arrangement.
The agreement has come under fire because President Hugo Chávez, whose nation is the fourth-largest supplier of US oil, has used harsh language to criticize Bush policies on free trade, poverty, and the war in Iraq. But representatives from his government yesterday said politics played no role in the gesture, which was negotiated recently in a face-to-face meeting between Chávez and Representative William D. Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat.
"Our objective is simple: to help people of limited means through the winter," said
Felix Rodriguez, chief of CITGO, a US subsidiary of the Venezuelan petroleum company, said: "No one should have to choose between heat and medicine or food."
By providing the discount, CITGO will forgo about $8 million in profit, local advocates said. Such an arrangement has never been made between a foreign government and a state.
For now, the arrangement is only for this winter, though local politicians and advocates would like to see it renewed in coming years, according to two officials involved in the Venezuela agreement. The officials wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the deal.
The officials also said they were interested in striking similar deals with other oil producing nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, though no talks are active.
All the major US oil companies were also asked to participate in such arrangements; none agreed, the officials said.
"With temperatures dropping and oil prices soaring, we're all worried sick about people without the means to heat their homes," Delahunt said. "It is gratifying that at least one major oil company is willing to step up."
Joseph P. Kennedy II, chairman of the nonprofit Citizens Energy, which is helping to administer the discounted oil, said it was unfair to criticize Chávez's motives when other oil-providing nations had given no aid.
"Nobody asks any of these questions to Saudi Arabia. Nobody asks any of these questions to Kuwait. Nobody asks any of these questions to Iran, Iraq or Azerbaijan or any of the other countries we get oil from," he said.
In Venezuela, "you have a country led by somebody who cares for the poor."
Governor Mitt Romney yesterday hailed the accord, though he declined to discuss Chávez.
"I'm delighted to hear we'll be able to purchase oil at a lower price than the market for our citizens," he said.
The discounted oil will be available beginning Dec. 12 to any of the more than 40,000 Massachusetts households receiving federal fuel oil assistance. Families who have used up their $550 annual federal subsidy will get a letter from Citizens Energy informing them of the new program.
Each household can request up to 200 gallons of oil; 200 gallons would cost them $276, a 40 percent, or $184, discount compared to market prices. Citizens Energy officials also said they would consider some cases of households earning too much money to qualify for federal aid but nonetheless unable to afford heating oil.
The Massachusetts Energy Consumer Alliance, another nonprofit, will also distribute 3 million gallons of the oil.