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Citgo to Continue U.S. Heating Aid After All

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

Venezuelan-owned Citgo Petroleum, which had earlier indicated it might end a home heating oil assistance program for low-income Americans, yesterday said it had decided to continue the program.

Citgo chief executive Alejandro Granado cited "the current global financial crisis and its impact on the oil industry in general" as reasons for the renewing the assistance.

Before Christmas, Citgo, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company, had told the nonprofit group Citizens Energy, which administers the program, that the effort was "suspended until further notice." At the time, Citgo said that it was reevaluating its social programs because of falling oil prices.

The program provided assistance to 200,000 households in 23 states last year.

"It is just an immediate PR remedy for a PR goof," said Pedro Burelli, a former director of the Venezuelan state oil company.

Joseph P. Kennedy II, chairman of Citizens Energy, said yesterday that the renewal of the program was evidence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's "genuine concern for the most vulnerable, regardless of where they may live."

Others saw the move in more pragmatic terms.

"From an economic point of view, given the pressures Chávez is under economically, it does make a lot more sense to discontinue it. People in the Bronx don't vote in Venezuelan elections," said Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue. "My guess is that they probably didn't want to lose their constituency in the U.S. at the moment when there is a change in administration."

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