December 14, 2007 / 10:55 PM / 10 years ago

Venezuela brings free heating oil to poor in NY

NEW YORK, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez may be a pariah in Washington, but on Friday the U.S. arm of the country's state oil company loaded up a truck of heating oil for poor Americans in New York City.

The shipment to New York's South Bronx section follows a similar giveaway in Boston earlier this week, in the third year of U.S. heating oil assistance by Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum. The program has grown even as tensions have mounted between Caracas and U.S. oil companies and their allies in Washington.

Former U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy and Alejandro Granado, president of Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum, climbed atop a fuel truck to fill it up at a fuel terminal in the South Bronx Hunts Point neighborhood.

Granado and Kennedy, head of a nonprofit group called Citizens Energy, gave a thumbs up to a small crowd of residents and Citgo employees wearing red jackets.

"This is a gift coming from the heart of the Venezuelan people to the heart of the American people," Granado told the crowd, some of whom held bright yellow, blue, and red Venezuelan flags handed out by Citgo staff.

The heating oil program, which provides a one-time heating oil delivery of 100 gallons to low-income Americans, will donate 45 million gallons, or more than $100 million worth, of heating oil to more than 200,000 families in 23 states this winter, according to Citgo.

"This is going to help us out especially now since the oil prices are so high," said Gloria Colon, a South Bronx resident who will be receiving the Venezuelan fuel assistance for the first time this year.

By the end of this winter, the program will have donated 100 million gallons of Venezuelan oil to low-income Americans, even as the leaders of the two nations continue to trade jabs.

Chavez called U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" in an address to the U.N. last year. Earlier this month, Bush cheered Venezuelans who voted to reject reforms that would have eliminated term limits for Chavez.

Bronx residents at the event dismissed the political spat and said the Citgo program served a good purpose.

"We can't get $1 for anything from an American oil company, let alone for heating oil," said Vicente Alba, the Chairman of For a Better Bronx, a local environmental organization, praising the donation of Citgo fuel.

"When you're low-income and you have to struggle, wherever you can get help from, you're going to take it," Colon said.

Colon, her mother Tomasa, and her grandson Steven, held Venezuelan flags, but Colon said she didn't have much to say about U.S.-Venezuela relations.

"I don't listen to much politics," she said. (Reporting by Rebekah Kebede)

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