Citgo, the Texas-based US petroleum refiner owned by the Venezuelan government, has suspended its charitable contributions scheme of home heating oil to low-income families in the US.
Joseph Kennedy of Boston-based Citizens Energy, the charitable organisation that administered the programme, said: “The current economic meltdown has forced Citgo to re-evaluate all the assistance programmes that they provide.”
In 2005, when Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez launched the programme, critics labelled the move as a publicity stunt. His staunch socialist stance and criticism of the US caused suspicion from those who bore witness to his famously calling President George W. Bush “the devil.”
Since the programme’s initiation, some 220,000 poor US families have benefited. Communities in 23 states including Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania received oil at a 40% discount. US$100 million of heating oil has so far been contributed as part of this social aid scheme.
But Kennedy criticises US oil companies for failing to take care of their own: “This shouldn’t be the responsibility of another country. I don’t get one barrel from one US company. Not one.”
Citgo calmed fears, stating that the programme is only under suspension and is not to be cancelled altogether, but is unable to give a date of resumption. “It remains unclear how long this postponement, if it is one, will last,” Kennedy said in a statement on the Citizens Energy web site. “All of us at Citizens Energy continue to do everything we can to advocate for a continuation of this vital assistance.”
Venezuela provides fuel to many Latin American nations and the oil-price slide is likely to cause drastic cut backs on spending plans this year. Chávez’ government calculated its US$78bn budget for 2009 using an oil-price forecast of US$60 a barrel, almost twice the current US$32.14 a barrel.