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Oil Deal is Her Lifeline

The Boston Globe by Adrian Walker Linda Kelly wasn’t spending a lot of time yesterday thinking about geopolitics. She was too busy relishing the prospect of keeping warm this winter. Kelly was the first recipient of cut-rate Venezuelan oil delivered to the Bay State through the efforts of US Representative William D. Delahunt and Joseph P. Kennedy II of Citizens Oil. The arrangement has drawn some criticism because it was negotiated with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who has been a bitter critic of the Bush administration. Kelly doesn’t care. “Just because he has problems with President Bush, that’s not going to affect me,” Kelly said yesterday by phone. “My political views aren’t going to keep me warm. I know people keep talking bout this, but it’s a gesture that someone wanted to make and give to me, and it’s doing to help lots of people, not just me.” Kelly and her Quincy home provided the backdrop for the announcement of the deal during a press conference Tuesday. There were lots of big shots around, including the chief executive of Citgo, a Texas-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan national oil company. Kelly wound up on ABC News, and her phone was still ringing yesterday, with Reuters and the Associated Press on the line. She was becoming a symbol, the human face of the “situation.” She said she became a customer of Citizens, the fuel assistance program, after her state fuel assistance ran out last winter. Kelly suffers from multiple sclerosis. Her husband is food service director for Derby Academy in Hingham. Their three children are 18, 16, and 14 years old; the oldest is a Type 1 diabetic. They manage to make ends meet, but last winter’s spike in energy prices hit them hard. This year seems likely to be just as difficult. Fuel process may be moderating form earlier record highs, but they can still tear a hole in a budget. “My daughter and I are doing fine, but we need all the medication to stay healthy,” Kelly explained. “We don’t have a whole lot of extra income to handle that kind of jump in price. What budget can handle that?” She said she thinks the program, which will allow eligible residents to buy 200 gallons of oil at reduced prices, will save lives. “There were people who were going to freeze to death,” she said. “It wouldn’t have shocked me. This is huge.” What made it big news had nothing to do with Linda Kelly. The news was that a Democratic representative had managed an end run around the administration by cutting a deal with an avowed adversary. It is true that relations between Chávez and the United States have been strained. Chávez has said that President Bush is an assassin and a crazy man. Some Americans aren’t huge fans of Chávez, either. He has been taken to task for human rights violations and for suppressing press freedoms and is generally one of the more controversial figures in Latin America. Yet, none of that stops us from buying oil from Venezuela every day. The 285,000 barrels of oil that will be sent to Massachusetts under this program is a small addition to what is already a big import. Kennedy wasn’t available for comment yesterday, but I imagine that he was enjoying the controversy. Both he and Delahunt have strongly defended the deal, which no doubt owes a lot to Delahunt’s carefully cultivated ties to Latin American leaders. The controversy will probably be the typical quick political squall, forgotten as soon as a fresher opportunity for partisan sniping in Washington comes along. Its effects will linger a bit longer for the beneficiaries. The deliveries start in mid-December. “It’s a wonderful thing,” Kelly said. “Even the vendors are going to give a special rate, so the cost is cut all around. It’s everybody working together. That’s how you fix these things. It’s not just Chávez.” Kelly sees the big picture a lot more clearly than the deal’s critics.

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