Chavez to Halt Heating Oil Aid Program for Poor in USA

Due to nose-diving oil prices, the government of Venezuela recently decided to end it's program for providing home heating oil to impoverished communities in the United States.

The program began three years ago, was administered through the state owned oil company Citgo Pertroleum and cost the Venezuelan government approximately 100 million dollars. A year ago, President Hugo Chavez declared his concern for poor U.S. citizens, sharing on Citgo's web site, "We are all americanos, and together we share the Bolivarian mission of giving hope and a better life to the poorest and most vulnerable—from Vermont to Venezuela."

But Chavez is trying to gather support for a referendum that would change Venezuela's term limits and allow him to stay in power after his current term ends in 2012. As a result, the President's concerns have focused back on helping the people of his nation and making the situation better for Venezolanos. In order to balance the country's budget, Chavez needs oil prices to remain steady between $60 and $90 a barrel. Right now, the price for a barrel of crude is holding at around $49.

"He is deciding to worry about his own domestic politics instead of ours," Julia Sweig, director of the Latina American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told the Washington Post. "Even before oil prices fell, he had to finance spending programs by borrowing money. Now he's shoring up all the domestic political support he can get and if that means rerouting $100 million from Americans to his own constituents, it makes a lot of sense."

"Heating-oil prices have declined from this summer's record highs, and they are lower than they were at this time last year," said Brian O'Connor, a spokesman for Citizens Energy, the non-profit that helped administer Venezuela's program. "But that's little comfort to families who couldn't afford the prices before. There are a lot of people who live on very tight margins."

Less advantaged families can seek assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.