- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Some gas station owners in Oklahoma are dropping the Venezuelan state-owned Citgo brand, saying sales have dropped significantly since the Venezuelan president criticized President Bush in a speech last month.

The president of Arkansas Valley, a Tulsa wholesale distributor that delivers Citgo gas to about 30 stations in Oklahoma and Missouri, said sales fell 10 percent to 15 percent after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s U.N. speech, in which he referred to Mr. Bush as “the devil.”

“We started losing business at our stores,” company President Weister Smith told the Tulsa World newspaper. “Some of our independent retailers came to us and asked us to make a change away from Citgo. Some of them actually covered up their Citgo signs.”

Citgo Petroleum Corp., which sells gas through 13,700 Citgo stations in the United States, said in July it planned to stop supplying fuel to 1,900 Citgo-branded stations in 10 states, including those in Oklahoma, by March.

However, some independent retailers want their suppliers to speed up the transition to another brand, fearing motorists will decide to fill up elsewhere.

Duff Thompson, president of Fiesta Mart, said rumors of a boycott of Citgo stations began spreading after the speech, prompting the company to speed up plans to rebrand eight of the company’s Tulsa stores that have sold gas under the Citgo name.

“We have some stores showing declines,” Mr. Thompson said. “But I wouldn’t attribute it all to the Chavez situation.”

Vance McSpadden, executive director of the Oklahoma Petroleum Association, said he understands the frustration some consumers feel toward Citgo.

But he cautioned that any boycott of Citgo wouldn’t hurt Mr. Chavez because Citgo doesn’t own any of the 13,700 U.S. outlets.

“It’s not Citgo they’re getting back at,” Mr. McSpadden said. “It’s that independent businessman who has got his livelihood invested in that business. That’s who you’re punishing.”

Shortly after Mr. Chavez’s speech, Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. said it was dropping Citgo as a supplier and that Mr. Chavez’s comments factored into its decision. Citgo denied 7-Eleven’s claim, saying the retailer had plans to switch suppliers before the speech.

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