16 February 2006

CITGO and the politics of oil

Over the last few weeks, screaming headlines recording record oil profits have become ubiquitous.

The Washington Post reported on 31 January that, "Exxon Mobil Corp. yesterday reported the highest profit in U.S. history: $10.71 billion for the fourth quarter of 2005 and $36.13 billion for the year." Another report noted that "Chevron's earnings rose twenty percent to a record high in the fourth quarter on the strength of high fuel prices." "Soaring oil prices in 2005 have helped Royal Dutch Shell report a record annual profit for a UK-listed company," the BBC reported on 2 February. On 8 February, BP "reported a 26% rise in annual profit to $16.2bn (£8.7bn) after benefiting from high oil prices."

Congress acted with predictable impotence, refusing to endorse any measures aimed at addressing the industry-wide conspiracy to inflate oil prices while camouflaging their utterly disgraceful inaction with hyperbole, lectures, and rhetoric.

Called before Congress to testify, the leaders of each of the main oil companies - save one - refused to concede anything to a desperate, oil-dependent nation strangled by high oil prices. The one company who took another course was CITGO, the wholly-owned American subsidiary of Venezuela's nationalized oil company, PDVSA. For months, CITGO has provided low-cost heating oil to poor families - most recently in Delaware but in Boston, New York City and elsewhere, too - living on Sam's plantation.

Uncle Sam responded by defending ExxonMobil and reacting with indignant outrage to CITGO's gesture! Representative Joe Barton (R-Texaco) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Chevron) shrieked, calling the move to discount oil "part of an unfriendly government's increasingly belligerent and hostile foreign policy toward the United States."

Barton & Whitfield's comments, though ghastly, racist, and absurd, are par for the course. Sam's government treats any gesture on the part of Venezuela or President Chavez to reach out to poor people on Sam's Plantation as a hostile act. And, in reality, I suppose it is. The last thing that Sam wants is a sincere outpouring of concern and compassion from another nation that exposes the war the ruling class wages daily here against its poorest.
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