From the robber baron days of Carnegie and Rockefeller to today’s Bill Gates, billionaires, with great fanfare, have spent a tiny fraction of their vast fortunes on “charities” of one kind or another. This has always been accompanied by a chorus of adulation from the capitalist press and politicians alike.
These “gifts” are designed to cover over their crimes and atrocities — such as the Carnegie Homestead strike massacre and the Rockefeller installation of “friendly” dictators overseas — as well as to persuade the exploited workers and poor here and abroad that we somehow need these “benevolent” parasites.
But the media response to the donation of more than 200 million gallons of heating oil over the past eight years to hundreds of thousands of poor families in the South Bronx, Boston, Washington, D.C., and many other communities has often been disdain and contempt. This oil has been provided by the Venezuelan government under the leadership of President Hugo Chávez.
In a scathing editorial attacking the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil program, the Wall Street Journal questioned “what the price of this largesse is to Venezuelans and to U.S. security interests.” (ABC News, March 4).
Some of the “brandy and cigar” crowd of fat cats have had the gall to call on the poor to refuse this help. Apparently the poor should freeze in their homes to show their loyalty to imperialism, the system of corruption and exploitation that provides them nothing but racism and oppression.
The bigwigs even persuaded the state government of New Hampshire to forbid this assistance, until the public outcry forced them to reverse their decision.
The Venezuelan heating oil program began eight years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Home heating oils had spiked as the giant oil companies used the damage to refineries in the Gulf as an excuse to gouge workers who needed the oil to heat their homes in the harsh winter months. President Chávez’s government has provided heating oil help each winter since.
In 2012, the U.S. government decided to cut 25 percent from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, taking away $1.2 billion in funding. At the same time, heating oil prices reached $3.93 a gallon, up 57 cents from 2011 and a 22-year high according to the Energy Information Administration (policymic.com, March 2012). This is a particular hardship for those in the oppressed communities and those on a fixed income, such as the disabled and retirees. Already there were more people in need from help from LIHEAP than were given assistance.
At the same time, in 2012, the CITGO- Venezuelan Heating Oil program provided 100 gallons of heating oil to some 400,000 poor families, allowing many to not have to choose between food and heat. Since the heating oil program began, more than 1.7 million people in the U.S. have been helped with 200 million gallons of oil, at a value of more than $400 million. (ABC News, March 4)
Despite the dramatic improvement of living standards for Venezuelan people under Chávez’s leadership, Venezuela remains a poor country with a poverty rate twice that of the U.S. Yet the Chávez government has continued providing this heating oil assistance as a statement of international solidarity with the poor and exploited against global imperialist rule.
The recipients of this aid catch this message loud and clear. Sofie Holland from Washington, D.C., effusively repeats her gratitude for the CITGO-Venezuelan Heating Oil Program. “How can you criticize someone who is helping people? What are the people who are criticizing doing to help? I don’t look at the president of Venezuela as a dictator. I look at him as a kind human being.” (ABC News, March 4).