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Fuel Pact Defended at Local Signing

The Boston Globe by Raja Mishra Local legislators and Venezuelan officials yesterday vigorously defended an agreement that will bring discounted heating oil to more than 40,000 low-income Massachusetts residents courtesy of a Latin American leader engaged in an acerbic public campaign against President Bush and US foreign policy. The deal, signed yesterday in a Quincy couple’s front year, will provide more than 12 million gallons of heating oil from Venezuela, with each qualifying household eligible to buy up to 200 gallons, enough to last several weeks, at a 40 percent discount. The Quincy couple, Linda and Paul Kelly, were the first beneficiaries of the arrangement. The agreement has come under fire because President Hugo Chávez, whose nation is the fourth-largest supplier of US oil, as used harsh language to criticize Bush policies on free trade, poverty, and the war in Iraq. But representative for his government yesterday said politics played no role in the gesture, which was negotiated recently in a face-to-face meeting between Chávez and Representative William D. Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat. “Our objective is simple: to help people of limited means through the winter,” said Felix Rodriguez, chief of CITGO, a US subsidiary of the Venezuelan petroleum company, said: “No one should have to choose between heat and medicine or food.” By providing the discount, CITGO will forgo about $8 million in profit, local advocates said. Such an arrangement has never been made between a foreign government and a state. For now, the arrangement is only for this winter, though local politicians and advocates would like to see it renewed in coming years, according to two officials involved in the Venezuela agreement. The officials wanted to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the deal. The officials also said they were interested in striking similar deals with other oil producing nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, though no talks are active. All the major US oil companies were also asked to participate in such arrangements; none agree, the officials said.

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