CHICAGO — “Is it not time for peace and reconciliation in a time of war and belligerency?” asked Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). “When the people of Venezuela are offering this gift to Chicago, then why should we not take this opportunity to simply reach out to the people of our city, and create a dialogue with the Venezuelan people?”
Gutierrez asked these questions at a Jan. 4 press conference here, urging the Chicago Transit Authority to accept a low-cost fuel offer made by the Citgo Petroleum Corp. Houston-based Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela’s publicly owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
The congressman was joined by an array of city and state elected officials, along with labor, community and disabled-rights group leaders, who were outraged by the CTA’s rejection of Citgo’s offer and a Jan. 1 fare hike. The CTA said the increase was necessary due to skyrocketing fuel costs and increased security expenses.
Commuters at the press conference held handmade signs that said, “CTA, we can’t pay.” With the new fare hike, commuters who pay in cash must now pay $2 dollars per ride instead of $1.75 and another $2 dollars for a transfer, which used to be 25 cents. Of the 1.6 million CTA bus and train users, 320,000 are cash-paying customers.
The Citgo deal could save the city millions on fuel expenses by providing deeply discounted diesel fuel for its buses. Citgo offered a 40 percent discount on 7.2 million gallons of diesel fuel that could save Chicago approximately $15 million. In return, at Citgo’s request, the CTA would then pass those savings on to low-income residents in the form of free or discounted fare cards.
“This proposal will ensure that the CTA remains an affordable option for those who need it the most: working families, immigrants and students,” said Alderman Billy Ocasio.
A meeting was held in October, where city officials, the city’s Department of Energy and representatives from the CTA were all presented with Citgo’s plan. The CTA, however, denies being present at this meeting.
Spokespeople for the CTA and the mayor’s office told the World that they are not interested in Citgo’s offer due to “environmental reasons,” suggesting the quality of the fuel might be subpar. However, Citgo has offered to provide the “ultra-low-sulfur fuel” necessary to meet the city’s environmental regulations.
Because of its left-wing president, Hugo Chávez, and anti-imperialist policies, Venezuela has been on the White House “enemies list.” Yet, both the CTA and the city deny that politics played a role in their decision.
The CTA also said it already had a contract with another oil company, BP. BP earned record profits last year.
“If other major cities are working with Citgo to reduce the strain of skyrocketing energy prices this winter, why is the CTA leaving Chicago out in the cold?” Gutierrez asked.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the first of Venezuela’s “oil-for-the-poor” programs were launched in the Bronx, N.Y., and in Boston, Mass. The plan is to deliver millions of gallons of heating oil at 45 percent below the market price to low-income communities in need. Citgo is also exploring the possibilities of offering discounted fuel to residents in Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.