Chavez wins heart of Boston proles

Hugo Chavez must be grinning from ear to ear. As the White House assiduously tries to demonize him, a Boston popular tabloid hails him as a savior of the city’s working class:

OUR VIEW: Heating aid just in the nick of time

The Patriot Ledger, Nov. 28

There was good news on the home heating oil front last week, just hours before the first blast of winter air struck the region.

U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Quincy, helped arrange a deal with Citgo Petroleum Corp. for some 12 millions gallons of Venezuelan oil to be purchased at a steep discount by low-income Massachusetts residents. An estimated 45,000 households will receive a one-time delivery of 200 gallons of oil at a price 40 percent below the market rate.

The arrangement caused a splash because Citgo Petroleum – known hereabouts for the very visible vintage sign in Kenmore Square – is a subsidiary of the Venezuelan government. People in Washington and elsewhere can debate whether the deal was a political slap in the face from Venezuela to President Bush, because Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is at odds with the White House. But for homeowners worried about whether they will have enough oil to heat their homes this winter, the politics are irrelevant. Cheaper oil is cheaper oil, and it’s welcome.

Less noticed perhaps was a $20 million fuel assistance program from the state, which can mean up to $840 for a family that meets the income eligibility standards. The law also includes tax deductions of up to $800 in oil or natural gas heating bills for taxpayers earning $50,000 as single filers, or $75,000 as joint filers. The deductions will be for oil and gas purchased between Dec. 1 and March 31 only. The package also includes tax credits for people making home improvements intended to increase energy efficiency.

The amount of aid available for home heating is more critical this year than ever, as energy costs are predicted to be almost 30 percent higher than last year. The Legislature and Gov. Mitt Romney have acted in a timely manner to have this assistance available.

In Congress, meantime, squabbling over appropriations bills has left the amount of money available for heating assistance the same as last year, or $77.5 million for Massachusetts. The amount of federal heating assistance nationwide is just $2 billion, truly a drop in the bucket for a product as essential as food or medicine.

Here’s a Nov. 22 story on the very shrewd and courageous deal:

Venezuela sending cheap oil to Massachusetts
Two nonprofit groups sign deal to aid low-income residents

QUINCY, Massachusetts (AP) — Thousands of low-income Massachusetts residents will receive discounted home heating oil this winter under an agreement signed Tuesday with Venezuela, whose government is a political adversary of the Bush administration.

Citgo Petroleum Corp., a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, will supply oil at 40 percent below market prices.

It will be distributed by two nonprofit organizations, Citizens Energy Corp. and the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance.

The agreement gives President Hugo Chavez’s government standing as a provider of heating assistance to poor U.S. residents at a time when U.S. oil companies have been reluctant to do so and Congress has failed to expand aid in response to rising oil prices.

U.S. Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts, a Democrat, met with Chavez in August and helped broker the deal.

He said his constituents’ needs for heating assistance trump any political points the Chavez administration can score.

“This is a humanitarian gesture,” Delahunt said, speaking after a news conference with Venezuelan officials and others outside the home of a constituent in Quincy who will receive heating aid.

Citgo is the Houston, Texas-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company and has about 13,500 independently owned U.S. gas stations.

It is offering Massachusetts more than 12 million gallons of discounted heating oil over the next four months, starting in December.

The two nonprofit organizations will screen recipients for financial need and cooperate with oil distributors that will make discounted deliveries to qualifying homes and institutions, such as homeless shelters and hospitals.

Chavez proposed offering fuel directly to poor U.S. communities during a visit to Cuba in August.

He has said the aim is to bypass middlemen to reduce costs for the American poor — a group he argues has been severely neglected by Bush’s government.

Chavez has become one of Latin America’s most vocal critics of U.S.-style capitalism, which he calls a major cause of poverty.

U.S. officials accuse Chavez of endangering Venezuelan democracy by assuming ever greater powers.

During a short-lived 2002 coup against Chavez, the U.S. government promptly recognized the new leaders, who were soon driven out amid a popular uprising.

Unfortunately, even as Chavez is winning friends among the Boston working class, he is now losing them among the Mexican (as well as Venezuelan) ruling class. See our last post.

See also our last post on the oil shock.

  1. Meanwhile in NYC…
    A similar deal in the Bronx is being brokered by three non-profit housing organizations, Mount Hope Housing, Fordham Bedford Housing and VIP Community Services. Writes Juan Gonzalez for the Daily News Nov. 22:

    Santa Claus, make way for Santa Chavez.

    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.