Venezuela’s state-run CITGO oil company will continue providing cheap heating oil to US households, the Venezuelan Embassy said on Wednesday, two days after CITGO announced the program was suspended indefinitely.
“CITGO ... confirmed the continuation of its social programs in alignment with the solidarity principles endorsed by the government” of Venezuela, CITGO president Alejandro Granado was quoted as saying in an embassy statement. “Therefore, our flagship social program, the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program, will continue.”
Close to 200,000 needy households throughout the US have benefited from the Venezuelan program since 2005, said Citizens Energy, a US-based group that distributes the fuel at a discount.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez irked the administration of President George W. Bush when he announced the program in the midst of rising oil prices. Critics branded the offer as propaganda.
On Monday, Citizens Energy announced that the heating oil program had been suspended indefinitely because of CITGO’s need to reevaluate all its social programs because of falling oil prices and the global financial crisis. Citizens Energy spokesman Brian O’Connor said on Wednesday that the program had not stopped completely, but had been “suspended indefinitely.”
But he refused to say, when asked, whether any new decision on the program was pending.
Granado said the decision to continue the program “is the result of a strong commitment and a big effort on the part of CITGO and our shareholder, in light of the current global financial crisis and its impact on the oil industry in general.”
Since July, the price of oil has plummeted from US$130 a barrel to a little over US$27 a barrel, raising concerns in Venezuela, that derives 90 percent of its foreign currency revenues from oil. The government gets half of its funding from oil.
O’Connor said the Venezuelan oil subsidy program for the US last year amounted to US$100 million.
Citizens Energy president Joseph Kennedy II, also quoted in the embassy statement, said Chavez had decided to resume the heating oil program.
“This decision is a clear, direct message from President Chavez of his desire to strengthen relations between his country and the United States, particularly at this time, when a new US administration is scheduled to be sworn-in within the next few weeks,” Kennedy said.
US president-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on Jan. 20.
Kennedy pointed out that he was “personally aware of President Chavez’s genuine concern for the most vulnerable, regardless of where they may live.”
When Citizens Energy first announced the suspension of Venezuela’s oil program, Kennedy said he was trying to make a personal appeal to Chavez, a staunch foe of the US government, to continue the oil deliveries.