If you live on the East Coast, as we on the 13th Floor do, it is hard to miss the ongoing debate surrounding Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's offer to provide discounted heating oil to needy Americans. Since he published the offer in an advertisement that read "How Venezuela is keeping the home fires burning in Massachusetts" over Thanksgiving, dozens of communities and several states in the East have accepted the socialist country's assistance--even though it butts up aganist official U.S. policy. The latest to consider Chavez's proposal is New Hampshire, and the simple news that Gov. John Lynch was even considering it has brought the Granite State a lot of heat.
There are two ways to look at this debate: On the one hand, Citgo is a Houston-based company--with hundreds of gas stations throughtout the Northeast--delivering discounted heating oil to the inner city. On the other, Citgo is a subsidary of Venezuela's nationalized oil company, whose autocratic leader is selling Venezuela's assets at cut-rate prices while his own country languishes in poverty. Chavez, a friend of Fidel Castro, has openly critized the United States and encouraged other countries in the hemisphere to oppose U.S. policies.
Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York City are all participating in Citgo's program and would argue it's not about international politics but a means of keeping low-income citizens warm. As of February, over 32,000 New Hampshire residents have sought help paying their fuel bills, an 11 percent increase over last year, according to the state's Fuel Assistance Program. If you were Gov. Lynch, what would you do?