As Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza explained on state television, the money would come from Citgo Petroleum, the government-run oil company with a refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex. Arreaza said the aid will be directed to local mayors and be aimed at the construction of homes and shelters around Houston. “We express our solidarity with the Americans affected by the hurricane,” he said, according to Reuters. “When an American fills his tank at a Citgo gas station, he’ll be contributing to the rebuilding of the affected communities.”
(The move might not be quite as charitable as it seems — new U.S. sanctions make it impossible for Citgo to send profits back to Caracas.)
It's not clear whether the United States will accept the aid. The State Department did not return calls for comment. A few days ago, Mexico offered “help and cooperation.” The State Department did not say whether it'll take the country up on the offer, explaining in an email Sunday to The Washington Post that “if a need for assistance does arise, we will work with our partners, including Mexico, to determine the best way forward.”
Venezuela has a long history of trolling U.S. leaders with kindness.
In 2005, Citgo offered $1 million in disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina. It also offered food, water, fuel and other assistance. The Bush administration rejected the aid, calling it “counterproductive.” (Then-President Hugo Chávez personally weighed in on the federal government's response to Katrina, calling President George W. Bush “the king of vacations” for staying in Texas as the storm swept through Louisiana. “There were many innocent people who left in the direction of the hurricane,” Chávez said in a speech. “No one told them where they should go.")
That same year, Citgo began delivering discounted or free heating oil to low-income Americans. The program — which eventually served more than 1.7 million Americans in 25 states and Washington — was celebrated by the likes of Joseph P. Kennedy II. Kennedy, who ran Citizens Energy, said that Chávez cared for the poor when “some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend.”
There were other efforts, too. Chávez was particularly partial to the South Bronx, where he donated millions of dollars over the years. That money funded after-school classes, literacy programs, food cooperatives and the restoration of the Bronx River. One woman, Lucia Solano, remembers “stalking” Chávez when he came to visit the New York borough in 2005. Her nonprofit group was $18,000 behind on rent, and Solano believed Chavez might help. She finally wrangled her way to the leader and made her case. He soon sent her a check to cover the rent.
Since Chávez died and the Venezuelan economy tanked, these efforts have mostly fizzled. And it's not clear that they ever got Chávez what he really wanted — a foothold with the U.S. poor. “Many people questioned his motivation,” Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, told the Associated Press shortly after Chávez died. “Was this a true humanitarian gesture or was it an opportunity to stick it in the eye of the United States? I think many people in the U.S. thought it was the latter.”