(CNSNews.com) - A Houston-based oil company will distribute free compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to low-income residents of 11 U.S. cities in a new program praised by a liberal activist but criticized by a conservative analyst on Friday as “shameless self-promotion” for Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.
The project was announced last Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where 1,500 households will receive an estimated 30,000 CFLs throughout the summer and early fall from CITGO, a corporation owned by the Venezuelan socialist government that refines, transports and markets transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and other industrial products.
“I am proud that CITGO invests over $100 million annually on social programs to improve the lives of those in need,” said the company’s chairman, president and CEO, Alejandro Granado, during the event.
In addition, “the CITGO-Venezuela Energy Efficient Lighting Program will save money for recipients who struggle to make ends meet while also helping these communities learn more about energy-efficiency and environmental conservation” through workshops sponsored by partner organizations, Granado said in a statement released by CITGO.
Another participant in Tuesday’s ceremony was former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, who founded the nonprofit Citizens Energy Corporation in 1979 and serves as its chairman and president.
“The most cost effective and clean energy is the energy we don’t use,” Kennedy said on Tuesday. “We are proud to partner with CITGO Petroleum to help our most vulnerable households learn ways to use energy more efficiently, and in doing so, save energy, money and the environment.”
"We are about saving oil, and the only oil company which has responded to our request to do more for America” was CITGO, Kennedy said in the press release.
"This program is a counterpart to our efforts in Venezuela, where more than 60 million conventional light bulbs have been replaced by energy-efficient ones through ‘Mission Energy,’" noted Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Bernando Alvarez.
A similar ceremony was held on Thursday in Houston, which will receive an estimated 140,000 CFLs throughout the summer and early fall in 7,000 households – about one-third of the national total of 460,000.
Other cities that will get bulbs are Corpus Christi, Texas, Lake Charles, La., and Lamont, Ill. – where the company has refineries – as well as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Madison, Wis., and Minneapolis.
"The price of energy is getting beyond the point where it's just the poor who can't pay – it's the moderate, middle-income Americans," said Kennedy. "The cost of air conditioning here in Houston or staying warm in Boston just gets out of control."
Nevertheless, the former congressman and son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy placed some of the blame for higher energy prices on the United States.
"If we did not view President Chavez as a threat and we had worked with the Venezuelan government instead of trying to overthrow them, then we would have a very different relationship than we have today," Kennedy said.
Relations between Venezuela and the United States have deteriorated significantly since Chavez came to power. By 2001, matters had grown so bad that after one of the political attacks by Chavez against President Bush, the U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Caracas.
The antagonism between the two countries has continued since: For example, Chavez called Bush "the devil" during an address to the United Nations in September 2006.
On Friday, James Roberts, research fellow for economic freedom and growth with the Center for International Trade and Economics at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service, “It is a disgrace that Hugo Chavez has appropriated the oil wealth of the Venezuelan people to fund his shameless self-promotion campaigns.”
“But then, who is going to stand up to a dictator?” Roberts asked.
“While CITGO brags about cheap light bulbs, it never mentions the prominent role Chavez has played to intimidate OPEC to reduce oil production to raise prices, an act that hurts the poor everywhere first and foremost,” he said.
“Nor is CITGO likely to highlight the trip Chavez will take next week to Russia, where he will cement his alliance with another autocratic leader -- Vladimir Putin,” Roberts noted. “Such a partnership is dangerous for energy security, dangerous for freedom in both nations and dangerous for America.”
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, this isn’t the first time Kennedy has received criticism over his support for the Venezuelan strongman.
In February 2007, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) called on the former Massachusetts lawmaker to stop airing television advertisements that gave "shameless support" to "the most dangerous man in the Western Hemisphere” for providing heating oil at a 40 percent discount to citizens.
Kennedy responded that he has "a lot of disagreements" with the Venezuelan leader, "but what are we supposed to do in the absence of adequate help from the federal government or of any help from other oil companies -- turn down the fuel for those in need?"
But on Friday, Roberts noted that “even the poor in America are relatively well-off by Venezuelan standards. After Chavez’s eight years in office and the receipt of more than $600 billion in oil revenues, Venezuelans at all income levels are no better off.”
“The average per-capita income in Venezuela is less than one-sixth of America’s, and millions of Venezuela’s extremely poor earn less than $1 a day,” which should be “an embarrassment to Chavez and Kennedy,” he said.