lunes, 14 de enero de 2008


The Venezuelan poor has no Kennedy II to embrace.


In early 1980, just after he founded Citizens Energy Corporation, Joseph Kennedy II approached the democratic government of Venezuela to buy oil. The newly created corporation was starting as an oil trader, hoping to use the profits in charitable programs to be developed in third world countries and in the poorer areas of the United States. Kennedy’s initiative was accepted by Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Petroleum, Humberto Calderon, with the condition that the corporation would use the benefits of the oil trading operation in social and energy conservation initiatives in Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, as well as in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government agreed to this program because it felt Kennedy’s idea had merit but did not use it as P.R. tool. In fact, the participation of the Venezuelan government in these early programs went practically unnoticed in the U.S.
Almost 25 years later the authoritarian government of Venezuela, led by Hugo Chavez, felt that the program with Kennedy II could be revived in an expanded and different format. One of Chavez’s main strategies called for the creation of allies in the U.S. political sector and generating goodwill among the poorer segments of the U.S. population, in an effort to antagonize the government of George Bush, one that he has insistently defined as evil.
The broker of this new agreement was U.S. Congressman William De La Hunt (D, Mass.) who visited Venezuela during 2005 and discussed the idea with Hugo Chavez. After months of negotiations an agreement was signed in November 2005 between Kennedy’s Energy Citizens Corporation and Citgo, now owned by the Venezuelan government, to start a program through which Venezuelan fuel oil would be distributed at a 40% discount to poorer segments of the population in the northeastern portion of the country, essentially Massachusetts and neighboring states. The initial volumes would be relatively modest, some 40 million gallons during 2006, increasing to 100 million gallons in 2007 and the following years. As the price of the gallon of fuel has been around $3 the cost of this subsidy for Citgo has already been of the order of $180 million and will be of some $120 million during 2008.
In an article published in his blog in November 2005 (“On a scheme to hoodwink America’s poor: Hugo Chavez enlists a Kennedy for his anti-U.S. campaign”), Pedro M. Burelli, a former member of the Board of Venezuelan oil state-owned company Petroleos de Venezuela, strongly criticized this agreement on several counts: one, the excessive media display, which suggests that the intention of the Chavez government is to play the role of the good Samaritan in the U.S. while keeping Venezuelans as poor as always; two, the fact that Citgo could have executed this program directly since it has logistical capabilities superior to Kennedy’s organization; and, three, the well-documented fact that Chavez policies and rhetoric have triggered severe oil price increases for the U.S. population at large, which shows that this program is just a hypocritical propaganda ploy. The so-called “Chavez premium”, Burelli affirmed, has added between $7-8 per barrel to the price of oil. Burelli also claimed that both De La Hunt and Kennedy had done this deal to reap political benefits rather than by altruism.
Even some pro-Chavez analysts in Washington DC openly admitted that the agreement was politically motivated, more than a humanitarian initiative. In The Boston Globe, a report by M. Levinson and S. Milligan (November 20, 2005) quoted Larry Birns, from COHA, saying: “This initiative by Chavez [and Kennedy] is a slap in the face” of the Bush administration. Jeff Cohen, an enthusiastic Chavez “volunteer” left no doubt about the political nature of Citgos’s initiatives when he wrote (, January 2008): “Looking for a way to protest Bush foreign policy? Buy gasoline at Citgo”. Bloggers received comments such as: “Citco (sic) is cool by me. Chavez thinks Bush sucks and so do I”. In an op-ed by Liza Featherstone for The Nation (‘Chavez’s citizen diplomacy”, December 14, 2006) she quoted a resident of the Bronx, Ms. Patricia White, as saying: “I am impressed [by the Citgo program]. It is refreshing, no red tape. Chavez is not like a U.S. politician. Here 80% of what they say does not happen”. If naïve Ms. White only lived in Venezuela she would have found out that more than 80% of what President Chavez says to Venezuelans does not happen and that the lack of red tape in the U.S. program was simply due to the authoritarian style of Hugo Chavez, one that admits no delays or objections. She probably did not know that in 1999, when an natural disaster took the lives of thousands of Venezuelans living along the coast, Chavez refused to let U.S. aid come into the country. Today, the area still needs rebuiding and survivors need attention that never came.
The Citgo/Kennedy program was ordered directly by Chavez to Citgo’s president Felix Rodriguez in 2005 (now replaced by Alejandro Granados). Rodriguez was quoted by David Lynch in USA Today (“Has Citgo become a political tool?” January 11,2006) as saying : “The only difference between Citgo and other companies is that Citgo has only one shareholder”. For those conversant with the Venezuelan current political situation the single shareholder Rodriguez had in mind was Hugo Chavez.
This “oil to the poor” program has been accompanied by a series of 30 second segments aired over national television, ads in which Joseph Kennedy II acts as the spokesman for the program and enthusiastically thanks Venezuela and Hugo Chavez for their generosity to the U.S. poor. These TV ads have received much criticism from Americans who feel indignant about Kennedy’s opportunistic participation, who have witnessed Chavez’s descent into dictatorship and/or have listened to his insults against President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. In reply to some of this criticism Kennedy II wrote an article in The Boston Globe (“Yes, Oil from Venezuela”, December 24, 2006) in which he stated: “the cold, elderly woman, does not care about rhetoric”. He seems to believe that the poor should be glad to receive handouts no matter the moral texture of the giver. He added: “criticism [of the program] is not about cheap oil but about Hugo” and said defiantly: “We will keep distributing Hugo’s oil”.Kennedy left no doubt he was siding with Chavez : “Chavez is socializing the oil profits. Poverty has dipped 25%. Food and health services have expanded”. However, he was and remains badly disinformed. Chavez has been pilfering oil profits while poverty in Venezuela remains at about 46% and income inequality has increased. This has taken place in spite of the $300 billion of oil windfall Chavez has received during the last nine years. Crime in the country is rampant and extreme food shortages are forcing the petroleum company to act as emergency importer of food. The failure of Chavez’s massive handout programs to really alleviate poverty is one of the factors that led to the defeat of his attempt to become president for life, last December 2, 2007.
The strongest criticism of Kennedy’s involvement in this program has come from Congressman Connie Mack. In a letter to Kennedy dated February 20, 2007, Mack said: “Hugo Chavez is providing your company with “low cost heating oil” not to help the American people but, rather, to exploit his apologists in the name of public relations. Sadly, you have chosen to actively participate in this charade, even as he continues to attack the United States”.
Kennedy replied to this letter with a biting letter of his own in which he called Mack’s criticism hypocritical. He said: “I would suggest that you hold all of 558 million barrels of oil we import annually from Venezuela to the same moral standard and not just the small slice we provide at a discount to the poor”. In this reply Kennedy obviously refused to make a difference between the traditional, arms-length commercial relationship that the two countries have maintained for over a century and the propaganda scheme in which plays a major role, one designed to make Chavez look altruistic.
Mack responded to this letter by challenging Kennedy to a public debate, a challenge Kennedy has refused to accept.
The TV ads have been shown for many months now, over national TV. Considering that each one of these TV spots costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and their high frequency, the cost to Citgo of this glorification of Chavez and Kennedy must run in the tens of millions of dollars per year.
There are, at least, two central issues related to this Citgo/Kennedy program. One is related to the fact that Venezuela is a country with extreme poverty, in great need of wise and honest utilization of its financial resources. Instead, Chavez is using Venezuelan national money in an all-out campaign for self-promotion. The oil for the poor program coordinated by Kennedy is part of this campaign, perhaps small in a quantitative sense but of great potential political impact in the United States.The U.S. poor receiving the handouts from Chavez have an average annual income six to ten times higher than the Venezuelan poor. This does not make logical or moral sense.
The other issue is related to Kennedy himself. A man nurtured in democracy, bearing a famous name in American politics, should have been more careful with the type of company he kept. Now, because of his deep involvement in the program, Kennedy is becoming a prisoner of the situation, finding himself obliged to defend a man who grows more undemocratic everyday. Chavez has just publicly sided with the Colombian narcoterrorist guerrilla, FARC, officially placing his regime in an alliance with the terrorists and against the democratic government of Colombia. As the spokesperson of the Chavez oil propaganda machine in the U.S., Kennedy has now become just one member of the gang.
As the days go by, Joseph Kennedy II might be feeling increasingly sorry that he got entangled with Hugo Chavez. Now it seems too late for him to break away without permanent damage to what remains of his reputation.

3 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

In the opinion of many, precious little remains of the Kennedy family reputation, even without the Hugo tarbaby.
I once revered the Kennedys. Today, I would say that it would be a tossup over whom I despised more: Hugo or the Kennedy family. And this is NOT taking into account Joe II's involvement with CITGO and Hugo.

Anónimo dijo...

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