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Inexpensive Heating Oil Arrives in US from Venezuela


Thousands of poor Americans will receive discounted home heating fuel this winter, thanks to an unusual arrangement with Venezuela, a country whose government is at political odds with the U.S. government.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, followed through on his promise to help the poor. Only it wasn't in South America.

Just outside Boston, in the state of Massachusetts, the first delivery of discounted home heating oil from Venezuela went to Linda Kelly. Cheaper fuel means the mother of three will not have to choose between eating or heating and she's not concerned her hardship could be used by Venezuela to embarrass U.S. President George Bush.

"I don't see any political issues, I just want to keep my family warm," she said.

CITGO, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state owned oil company is supplying the fuel at 40 percent below market price, or about 15 to 20 cents less per liter.

The arrangement is seen by political analysts as an attempt by Mr. Chavez to improve his image with the American public by providing assistance to low income residents at a time when U.S. oil companies and U.S. lawmakers have been reluctant to do so.

The Bush administration calls the home heating oil program a political ploy, but U.S. Congressman William Delahunt calls it a humanitarian gesture.

"This today is about people, it's not about politics," he said.

But politics has marked the running argument between the leaders of the two countries. Julia Sweig at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations says the heating oil program is an attempt by Mr. Chavez to boost his popularity and push his brand of anti-capitalist, anti-American politics.

"He sees himself as a modern day revolutionary," said Ms. Sweig. “He sees himself as unifying Latin America, as building a Latin America that is independent from the United States."

The U.S. is the largest purchaser of Venezuelan oil, which accounts for 80 percent of the country's exports.

The average U.S. household is expected to spend 27 percent more for heating oil than it did last year. Under the agreement, qualified Massachusetts residents and institutions will receive more than 12 million gallons of discounted heating oil this winter.

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