- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2006

BALTIMORE — A 58-year-old disabled mother is the latest beneficiary of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s oil largesse.

Citgo Petroleum Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, delivered discounted heating oil yesterday to Debra Henderson’s Baltimore home, the first of 15,000 needy households in Maryland slated to receive more than 3 million gallons of discounted fuel.

Citgo is providing up to 200 gallons to each household at 40 percent discount.

The heating oil program is part of a promise by the country’s socialist leader to aid America’s poor. Along with poor homes, Citgo is also donating free oil to homeless shelters.

Nationally, Citgo said it will expand the program beyond the Northeast to provide oil at a 40 percent discount to more than 400,000 households in 16 states and the District. It will more than double the amount of oil provided, from nearly 40 million gallons last winter to more than 100 million gallons for this winter.

One of the D.C. recipients was Minnie Davis, 65, a widow who lives on North Capitol Street with three grandchildren. She received the oil the week before Thanksgiving.

The United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, but relations between the two countries have been tense since Mr. Chavez took office.

Critics of the discounted oil program say Mr. Chavez is hoping to embarrass President Bush, whom the socialist leader has repeatedly mocked, including in a speech to the United Nations in September in which he called Mr. Bush “the devil.”

That prompted the residents of some Alaskan villages to reject the oil offer. Maine Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat who approved an agreement last winter to buy discounted oil, also has said he had no plans this year to seek a similar arrangement.

Citgo President and Chief Executive Officer Felix Rodriguez has called the charity a “people-to-people program that comes from the heart of Venezuela to the homes of American families who just can’t pay their energy bills.”

Former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II of Massachusetts, who drove the delivery truck up to Miss Henderson’s small two-story brick row home, said he approached every major oil company and every Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) nation last year and asked that a small slice of record profits go to help the poor.

“The only country, the only oil company to provide the poor of this nation with a little assistance was Citgo,” said Mr. Kennedy, whose Citizens Energy Corp. is running the household-delivery program.

Citizens Energy, founded by Mr. Kennedy, has provided discounted oil to the poor and elderly since the oil crisis of the late 1970s.

Mr. Chavez, who accuses Washington of backing a 2002 coup attempt against him, celebrated his victory in Sunday’s vote by calling his re-election “another defeat for the devil, who tries to dominate the world.”

U.S. officials, meanwhile, question the state of democracy in Venezuela. Mr. Chavez’s opponents view him as power hungry, noting he has said he plans to seek constitutional reforms to end presidential term limits. Supporters note his multibillion-dollar social programs include subsidized food for the poor, free university education and cash benefits for single mothers.

Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez said that the country views its petroleum reserves “not simply as a commodity, but as a treasure to use to help others.”

“Our assistance to the poor of the United States is part of a broad strategy to help those in need, not only in Venezuela but throughout the hemisphere under a spirit of solidarity promoted by President Chavez,” Mr. Alvarez said.

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