Chavez Boosts Heating Oil Program for U.S. Poor; Goes After Bush Again

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By IAN JAMES
Associated Press
Thursday, September 21, 2006; 4:59 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited a Harlem church Thursday and promised to double the amount of discounted heating oil his country ships to needy Americans. But he also took another swipe at President Bush.

A day after he called Bush "the devil" in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Chavez said of the president: "He's an alcoholic and a sick man."

Chavez received a round of applause from the crowd at Mount Baptist Olive Church, which included activists and other supporters as well as actor Danny Glover.

Bush has acknowledged that he had a drinking problem when he was young but gave up alcohol 20 years ago.

Chavez also called Bush's policies in Iraq criminal, adding he hopes Americans will before long "awaken" and elect a better president. The Venezuelan said that while he opposes Bush, the American people "are our friends."

Some in the church laughed and applauded when Chavez compared Bush to the cowboy movie icon John Wayne.

Chavez also announced that Citgo, the U.S.-based refining arm of Venezuela's state-run oil company, plans to more than double the amount of heating oil it is making available under the program to 100 million gallons this winter, up from 40 million gallons.

He said the oil will reach people in 18 states, including Indians in Alaska, some of whom were flown to New York for the ceremony and attended in traditional dress. They performed a traditional dance for Chavez and offered him a walrus figurine carved out of whale bone as a gift.

Chavez started the heating oil program last winter, accusing Bush of neglecting the poor. The United States continues to be the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, bringing the South American country billions of dollars in earnings that help fund Chavez's popular social programs.

The Venezuelan president repeated his warning that if the U.S. government tries to oust him, his country would halt oil sales to the U.S. Chavez said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's position is the same.

"If that were to happen, the price of oil could reach $200 a barrel," Chavez said, adding that he'd like to see a U.S. president "who you could talk with."

AP-ES-09-21-06 1619EDT


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