"Chavez Brings Oil Diplomacy to US," by Marcel Honore - AP (Caracas), 23 Nov 2005
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez strengthened his Latin American ties with generous oil deals that he is now extending north to the United States, with plans to ship cheap heating oil to low-income people in New York and Massachusetts.
Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum Corp. made a symbolic first delivery to a Boston-area family this week. Shipments are due to reach tens of thousands families starting next month, and hospitals, homeless shelters and other facilities in needy communities also are in line to get oil.
Chavez's critics call it a political stunt aimed at needling President Bush, a constant target of taunts from the leftist leader. Others say Chavez is likely to win praise from some Americans with a clever approach that bypasses Washington to make his point.
"How are you going to retaliate for keeping people warm for winter?" said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "It's a pretty brilliant strategy."
Linda Kelly of Quincy, Mass., said she feels grateful to Chavez for the fuel that her family of five received this week at a 40 percent discount.
"He's doing the right thing," Kelly, 44, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "The people of Venezuela are lucky to have him. That's what government is supposed to be about — taking care of the little guy."...
The 12 million gallons of fuel earmarked for Massachusetts will be distributed by two nonprofit groups and reach an expected 40,000 families, who could save a total of between $10 million and $14 million.
Venezuelan heating oil also is headed to New York City's Bronx borough, and Chavez has said he hopes to extend the project to other U.S. cities.
Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst with the New York-based think tank Eurasia Group, said the discount sales are a way for Venezuela to "compromise the White House position within the U.S." and amplify Chavez's voice.
A close ally of Fidel Castro, Chavez proposed offering fuel to poor U.S. communities during an August visit to Cuba in August. He found allies in some congressional Democrats and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"Chavez is spreading his influence by a good use of energy to people who need it," Jackson said in a phone interview from Las Vegas. "So long as spreading influence achieves a noble purpose of relieving poverty and misery, it's a good thing."
U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., discussed the discount oil sales over a dinner with Chavez in August and has called for U.S. oil companies to follow Citgo's lead.
Well, Chavez has won over Lynn Kelly of Quincy, Mass., at least. It's worth wondering whether that kind of support is what he's really after. Obviously he's stengthening ties with certain US politicians and social activists; and, as the critics cited in the third paragraph note, it's a way of "needling" President Bush. My guess would be that this initiative is more about building Chavez's image at home than it is about making friends in the US ('Look! We're so prosperous that we can afford to give economic aid to the Americans'; 'I'm strong enough to stand up to Bush in his own backyard').
"A Congressman Brings Home the Fuel - From an Unorthodox Source," by Mark Clayton - the Christian Science Monitor, 25 Nov 2005
BOSTON – Linda Kelly of Quincy, Mass., and her family will get some help with their heating bills this winter, courtesy of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, who evidently can feel a US chill way down in Caracas.
This week's announcement that Venezuela will sell 12 million gallons of heating oil - at a discount - to help Massachusetts' neediest citizens is part political theater to tweak the Bush administration, part PR campaign for Mr. Chávez, and, some allow, part gesture of help.
"Our objective is simple: to help people of limited means through the winter," said Felix Rodriguez, chief executive officer of Citgo, the US-based refining subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company.
A deal to supply oil to New York - and possibly other US cities - is in the works.
Behind these pacts are influential Americans with close ties to Chávez - in Massachusetts' case, a US congressman who worked behind the scenes for some time to secure the oil. It's an indication that Chávez, who was castigated in Congress just last week for aligning himself with the likes of Fidel Castro and the late communist revolutionary Che Guevara, is not without friends in America.
But some analysts see such oil deals as carrying a hidden price tag in the long term: bolstering Chávez's government.
"It's a populist move by Chávez and his government," says Gal Luft of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, an energy security think tank. "They're trying to offer cheap oil to curry favor with the American people to provide some political relief at time when relations between the two countries are not good."
In some ways, the oil pact should not be a surprise, fitting Chávez's pattern of diplomacy.
"He's been going around the continent giving money away, subsidizing every country in the region, and this move is part of that," says Ricardo Hausmann, an economist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former Venezuelan planning minister. "Such things are meant to make it harder for a political coalition to limit his actions."
Like 45,000 needy Massachusetts families, Mrs. Kelly's will get an extra load of fuel oil delivered to her home if she needs it - at a 40 percent discount, a savings of about $184.
In total, those savings for Americans will cost Venezuelans, who on average are much poorer, about $8 million. But it's worth every penny to Chávez, whose current global charm campaign involves using petro-dollars to quiet critics and win goodwill, several experts say....
"Quincy Kickoff - Timely Delivery: Delahunt-Arranged Deal with Citgo Promises Cheaper Heating Oil for Low-Income Residents" - the Patriot-Ledger (Quincy, Massachusetts), 24 Nov 2005
An addition to low-income fuel assistance in Massachusetts was ceremonially launched at a home in North Quincy yesterday. U.S. Rep. William D. Delahunt, D-Mass., hailed an agreement under which Citgo Petroleum Corp. will offer a 40 percent discount on about 12 million gallons of Venezuelan oil this winter to supplement low-income fuel assistance in the state.
The offer ‘‘truly demonstrates what good corporate citizenship is all about,’’ Delahunt told about 75 people gathered in Paul and Linda Kelly’s rain-soaked yard at 11 Wilson Court.
The Citgo discount will mean relief for thousands of Massachusetts residents, he said.
Three-fourths of the discounted Citgo oil will be allocated for qualifying low-income Massachusetts households. The nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp., founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II, is to oversee the distribution.
Those nine million gallons are enough for one-time deliveries of 200 gallons to 45,000 fuel-assistance-eligible Massachusetts households.
Citizens Energy will buy the oil at wholesale and pass on the savings to the participating households. At today’s prices, a household could save about $200 on a delivery, a Citizens Energy spokesman said.
About 25 percent of the discounted oil will be earmarked for agencies and institutions that serve low-income people, such as housing authorities, shelters and home-health agencies. The non-profit Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance will oversee the distribution....
Added 26 Nov 2005 - for some regional context, see:
"Latin America Faces Year of Change," by James Painter - BBC News, 24 Nov 2005
Twelve presidential elections are due to take place in Latin America between November 2005 and the end of 2006. They include seven of the region's eight most populous countries: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Chile and Ecuador.
The key issue is whether the recent left-wing trend in the region will continue, and if so, what will be the likely nature of any new left-leaning government.
Will it be of the President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela variety or of the moderate President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil variety?
Mr Chavez is a "21st-Century socialist", who is strongly anti-President Bush and anti-private sector (since the beginning of 2005), and enjoys close ties with Cuba and Iran....
It is probably true that left-wing parties and governments are currently stronger in Latin America than anywhere else in the world. There are diverse reasons for this depending on the country, but there are also some common threads.
Left-wing parties have tended to do well by offering something different from the dominant free market policies which previous governments followed, promising more to the poor, playing the anti-Bush card - the war in Iraq is deeply unpopular in the region - and speaking of Latin American integration.
In the 1980s Latin America led the world in following the so-called Washington consensus, by which governments were encouraged to liberalise and privatise their economies.
Many governments went much further down that path than in other parts of world, but the results have been disappointing.
Out of a population of around 550 million, 220 million are still poor and 100 million are extremely so, living on less than $1 a day....
So how does Washington see Latin America?
At the beginning of his first term, President Bush said the region would be one of his priorities. The first head of state he met was President Fox of Mexico.
However, after the attacks on 11 September, Latin America slipped way down the agenda. The vision of a free trade zone stretching from Alaska in the north to Patagonia in the south all but died.
However, now there are signs that it is creeping up again, and the main reason is Hugo Chavez.
Many analysts agree that it is not so much the fact that the US gets 15% of its oil from Venezuela, or that Mr Chavez seeks out friendships with Iran, Cuba, and China. It is more that in the words of one state department official, unlike Fidel Castro in Cuba, Mr Chavez is a "socialist with deep pockets".
He is the most influential leader in Latin America today, more so than Presidents Castro or Lula. Washington is worried he is using his vast reserves of oil money - at least $30bn - to buy influence in the region....
Washington's policy has been a mixture of trying to portray Mr Chavez as anti-democratic and a dangerous influence in the region, and to support labour unions and political parties opposed to him within Venezuela....
[But] allegations by US officials that Mr Chavez is supporting radical groups in unstable countries like Ecuador and Bolivia have not been stood up. Washington says this is because the evidence may compromise their sources, but the lack of proof has made some of the comments sound empty.
One of the main problems for the Bush administration is that if it takes a confrontational approach to Mr Chavez, then it is likely to make him more popular in the region.
Like his close ally Fidel Castro, Mr Chavez thrives on confrontation with his giant neighbour to the north.
Added 26 Nov 2005 - Congressman Delahunt talks about the Venezuelan oil sale on his Web site, under "Low-Income Heating Aid."
"Venezuela's Leader to Send Heating Oil to South Bronx," by Jonathan P. Hicks - the New York Times, 26 Nov 2005 (registration required)
A group of South Bronx residents will soon receive a large - and inexpensive - shipment of heating oil, courtesy of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a frequent thorn in the side of the Bush administration.
Under an agreement between President Chávez and United States Representative José E. Serrano, Citgo, the Houston-based American subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, will provide eight million gallons of discounted heating oil this winter to thousands of low-income residents of the South Bronx.
The oil should start arriving late next week or early in the week of Dec. 5, Mr. Serrano, a Bronx Democrat, said in an interview yesterday. He said that the oil would be provided at 40 percent below the market rate.
"This is something that came as a result of conversations between me and President Chávez," Mr. Serrano said. "As part of our talk, he suggested that he wanted to ask Citgo to make home heating oil available to the poor of the South Bronx at a lower rate."
Mr. Serrano said that the agreement provided "an incredible message to other oil companies."
"It tells them," he said, "that that if these people in Venezuela can share their profits with poorer communities, then they should, too."...
Mr. Serrano said that there were some challenges in fine-tuning the program in the Bronx that were not encountered in Massachusetts.
In New York, he said, most of the low-income residents rent their apartments as opposed to being homeowners, as in Massachusetts.
The congressman added that the priority was to administer the program in such a way that the savings were passed to residents.
"In New York, most of the landlords are private landlords, and we don't really know how to get them to pass along those savings to the renters," Mr. Serrano said. "We suggested to the president that we start off with three nonprofit affordable housing community corporations in the South Bronx."
Initially, Mr. Serrano said, the program will involve residents in about 200 apartments. He added that the agreements with the nonprofit groups call for residents to receive vouchers for rent reductions and for "infrastructure and quality-of-life improvements" in the buildings.
A press release from Congressman Serrano's office is available on his Web site.