February 1, 2006

Group pushes Venezuela gasoline boycott

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A conservative religious group
protesting the anti-U.S. criticisms of Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez is urging drivers to steer clear of gasoline sold
by Citgo Petroleum Corp., the organization's chairman said on

The American Family Association launched the boycott of
Citgo, the U.S. refining and marketing branch of Venezuela's
national oil company PDVSA, in an attempt to cut oil revenue
flowing to the Venezuelan government of Chavez, which has been
a harsh critic of U.S. President Bush.

"It doesn't make sense to purchase gasoline from a country
that wants to bring down the U.S. government," AFA Chairman
Donald Wildmon told Reuters in a telephone interview from the
organization's Tupelo, Mississippi, headquarters.

A Citgo spokesman declined to comment on the boycott
effort. A source at the company's Houston headquarters said
Citgo has received more than 37,000 e-mails from people
pledging not to buy gasoline at the company's 14,000 U.S.
service stations.

This is the second campaign focusing on Citgo because of
Chavez. In 2005, liberal groups began urging people opposed to
the Bush Administration to buy their gasoline at Citgo gas
stations as a sign of support for Chavez.

AFA's boycott campaign began after U.S. antiwar activist
Cindy Sheehan met with Chavez over the weekend, Wildmon said.

"Enough of imperialist aggression," Chavez said at that
meeting. "We must tell the world, down with the U.S. empire."

Chavez has accused the U.S. government of attempting to
bring down his administration. U.S. officials deny the charge
but have called Chavez a "destabilizing" force in the region.

"I think the man wants to be the next Fidel Castro,"
Wildmon said.

Relations between Washington and Venezuela, a top supplier
of U.S. oil imports, have degenerated since Chavez first won
office in 1998. Chavez says the U.S. capitalist model has hurt
the economies of South America and says his self-styled
socialist policies are better for the region.

OPEC nation Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the
Western Hemisphere and is one of the top five exporters of
crude and products to the United States.

Despite tense relations with the Bush administration,
Chavez has used Citgo as a tool of goodwill diplomacy in recent
months, donating low-cost heating oil to poor people in the
United States.

AFA claims 2.97 million on-line supporters. The
organization was founded in 1977 by Wildmon, a Methodist
minister, as the National Federation of Decency.