Caracas, Venezuela, August 28, 2005 —Venezuela’s Chavez said to visiting Rev. Jesse Jackson today that he would like Jackson to help with finding a way to provide discounted heating oil and free eye operations to poor communities in the U.S. Pointing out that Venezuela provides 1.5 million barrels of oil per day to the U.S., Chavez said, “we would like to provide a part of this 1.5 million barrels of oil to poor communities.”
Chavez made these comments during his weekly television program Aló Presidente today, which Jackson briefly attended to speak to Chavez and the audience. Jackson is on a three-day visit to Venezuela, during which he will meet with local religious leaders, Afro-Venezuelan groups, the president of the state oil company PDVSA, President Hugo Chavez, and visit poor-neighborhoods to see Venezuela's social programs at work.
Chavez had first mentioned the plan to supply discounted oil to poor communities in the U.S. last week, while in Cuba, but did not provide any details beyond that. Today he specified that it was heating oil that the Venezuelan government was looking into because this seemed the most feasible and most necessary approach. Given the high price of oil this year, heating oil is expected to reach very high levels this winter, which will be unaffordable for many poor families in the U.S.
“There is a lot of poverty in the U.S. and don’t believe that everything reflects the American Way of Life. Many people die of cold in the winter. Many die of heat in the summer, many unemployed and that die of starvation,” said Chavez in explaining why Venezuela was interested in providing discounted heating oil to the U.S. poor. “We could have an impact on seven to eight million persons,” he added.
Chavez said that he was interested in talking to Jackson about this plan, so that his organization and other U.S.-based groups might help with it. Chavez mentioned the groups TransAfrica Forum, Global Exchange, and Global Women’s Strike that could also help implement the plan.
Part of the plan was for the U.S.-based and Venezuelan state-owned oil company Citgo to provide heating oil directly to poor households. Chavez said this would not present a loss to Venezuela because the idea would be to offer the oil at a lower rate because intermediaries would not be involved. Up to 30% to 40% of the cost could be saved said Chavez. Citgo licenses 14,000 gas station franchises and 8 refineries in the U.S.
Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez, had told Chavez that the embassy has already received over 140 requests about the plan, even though it has not been formally announced yet.
Free Eye Operations
Chavez spent a large part of his Sunday talk show discussing new healthcare plans for Venezuela. Part of this discussion also involved the provision of free eye operations to people in all of the American continents, north and south. The operations Cuba would provide the bulk of the operations, with Venezuela providing the transportation.
Chavez said that of the six million operations that Cuba and Venezuela would want to organize over the next ten years, there would be slots for 150,000 U.S.-Americans per year. Each country will receive a quota. Chavez gave some examples, explaining that there would be 100,000 for Brazilians, 60,000 for Colombians, 12,000 for Panamanians, 30,000 for Ecuadorians, 20,000 for Bolivians, and 20,000 for inhabitants of the Caribbean. Chavez said that those interested in the eye operations should turn to the Venezuelan embassies in their respective countries.
The plan to provide free eye operations is part of the “Mission Miracle,” which is one of the many new social programs that Chavez government has instituted in the past two years in Venezuela. By the end of December, 150,000 Venezuelans will have received eye operations. These operations involved operations for cataracts, myopia, pigmentary retinosis, and many others.