Tuesday, January 03, 2006

“Smoking, eating and Venezuelan diesel are prohibited."

From Alternet:
Chicago vs. Hugo Chávez
By Jessica Pupovac, The NewStandard

The Chicago Transit Authority is refusing an opportunity to alleviate commuting costs for hundreds of thousands in the Windy City's low-income neighborhoods. Instead of accepting deeply discounted fuel from the Venezuela-owned Citgo Petroleum Corp., the city is instead raising fares to solve budget shortfalls.

In an October meeting with representatives from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the city's Department of Energy and other city officials, Citgo unveiled a plan to provide Chicago with low-cost diesel fuel. The company's stipulation, at the bidding of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was that the CTA, in turn, pass those savings on to poor residents in the form of free or discounted fare cards.

But two months later, despite claims of a looming budget crisis, the CTA president "has no intent or plan to accept the offer," according to CTA spokesperson Ibis Antongiorgi. She gave no explanation. According to Venezuela's consul general in Chicago, Martin Sanchez, the CTA has yet to inform his office of its decision to decline the discount offer.

In place of the proposed discount, which the CTA apparently does not want Chicagoans to even know about, budget shortfalls will be addressed by fair hikes. Chicagoans who are unaware of the Venezuelan offer will be hit with an increase of 25 cents per ride next month, and discounted route-to-route transfers will be eliminated for passengers paying cash. ***

Citgo has made a similar arrangement with Citizens Energy Corp. in Boston for the sale and distribution of 12 million gallons, saving low-income and elderly residents there a total of $10 million. The company's website says that it expects to expand the program to other boroughs in New York City and that it is exploring the possibility of offering discounted fuel to residents in Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

However, in all of Illinois, only about 12,000 households use heating oil. So instead of fuel for heat, Citgo representatives offered the CTA a 40-50 percent discount on diesel fuel for buses to benefit Chicagoans most in need of relief from soaring oil and gas prices this winter. "We didn't know how else to reach enough people," said Consul Sanchez.

Another difference between the Chicago offer and the programs enacted in the Northeast is that Citgo proposed to work with a government agency rather than nonprofit organizations. The CTA relies on the U.S. federal government -- which is in a constant war of words with Venezuelan President Chavez -- for much of its funding. In fact, just weeks after Citgo made its offer to the CTA, Congress signed the Federal Transportation Appropriations bill, allocating $89 million in infrastructure project funds the CTA had been seeking for years.

Representatives from the U.S. State Department and city officials, including aldermen involved in the negotiations and the Chicago mayor's office, refused to respond to queries about whether international politics played any part in the CTA's rejection of Citgo's offer.
There is more here.

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