Tribes honor Venezuelan-owned company for heating help

Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) 2-08

American Indians are again receiving heating help from the CITGO oil company that’s owned by Venezuela.

Several tribes on during early February honored the president of CITGO Petroleum, Alejandro Granado, and Citizens Energy Corp. Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II with music and dance at a Rapid City event.

It is the second year CITGO has provided energy assistance for Indians.

CITGO initially provided discounted home heating oil and has expanded its program to include direct financial assistance. This year, that amounts to $21 million to 220 tribal communities in 13 states, according to CITGO.

The impact of higher fuel costs on low-income Americans is being ignored, said Kennedy, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy and the son of Robert Kennedy.

“No one is talking about it nationally,” he said. “No one is having this conversation.”

The nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp. funnels profits from commercial ventures into charitable programs. It was founded by Kennedy in 1979.

Iyonne Garreau, 75, of Eagle Butte said the stormy relationship between the United States and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez means nothing to her. What does matter, she said, is that she got $267 worth of propane for her home.

“My, was I ever happy. I was really, really so thankful,” Garreau said. “If I had a direct line, I’d sure thank them with a letter or something.”

Heating aid from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program were exhausted when CITGO sent more than $400,000 to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said David Brien of Belcourt, N.D., the tribal chairman. It’s the first year his tribe has received the money.

The CITGO money helped many families cope with rising energy costs, he said.

Joe Brings Plenty, Cheyenne River Sioux tribal chairman, said 570 homes on his reservation benefited from the $470,000 CITGO sent his people.

“During one of the coldest winters in the past eight years, and at a time of the greatest need, Citizens Energy, CITGO and the people of Venezuela came through,” Brings Plenty said.