- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — Immigrant-advocacy group Casa de Maryland on Monday received a $1.5 million donation from Citgo Petroleum Corp., a subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company that is controlled by President Hugo Chavez.

The funds will be used to strengthen Casa’s $4.4 million social-service, small-business and vocational-training programs over the next three years. Kim Propeack, advocacy director for the Montgomery County-based organization, said it’s the largest corporate gift Casa has received.

“Like many nonprofits, Casa has been trying to grow its corporate investment,” she said. “Citgo is very committed to ensuring that the profits they earn through their business are shared by low-income people. We applaud their sense of corporate responsibility.”

A Monday news conference to announce the donation was postponed because of a personal emergency of Citgo President Alejandro Granado, who was to attend with the Venezuelan ambassador. Ms. Propeack said the contribution would still be finalized Monday.

Casa, which has several locations in Maryland, also will receive $1.9 million in 2009 from Montgomery County, according to county spokesman Patrick Lacefield. The funds will help operate Casa’s five day-laborer centers as well as health, education and housing programs for low-income immigrant families.

About 45 percent of Casa’s $6.3 million budget in 2009 comes from the state and county, Ms. Propeack said.

In 2007, the Venezuelan government expressed interest in helping fund some county programs. But Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett declined to get involved, Mr. Lacefield said.

“I think he felt that we really didn’t need assistance from the Venezuelan government to run Montgomery County,” he said. “Our attitude was thanks, but no thanks.”

Communities served by Casa have already benefited from Citgo programs. Since 2006, Casa has partnered with Citgo in a program that provides heating oil at a discounted rate to families in the area. Citgo began the national program in 2005 with the Venezuelan government and Boston-based Citizens Energy Corp.