ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Alaskan villages have begun receiving a much-criticized donation of heating fuel from the Venezuelan oil company Citgo, about two months later than organizers had hoped.
More than 11,000 homes in rural Alaska are eligible for 100 gallons each as part of Citgo's pledge to donate 1 million gallons of heating fuel to poor Americans.
Coordinators of the giveaway, led by the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, had hoped vouchers would reach villages by Nov. 1. But Citgo needed paperwork verifying addresses and head of households for every home in more than 150 villages — an enormous undertaking in many remote areas, said Steve Sumida of the tribal council.
Citgo's $5.2 million gift drew a barrage of criticism because of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez's combative attitude toward U.S. policy, particularly after he called President Bush the "devil" in a speech at the United Nations in September. Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corp. is owned by the Venezuelan government.
Still, more than 150 Alaska villages took advantage of the offer, and residents began receiving vouchers late last month that can be redeemed at local fuel sellers, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
"It was a great way to start the new year," said Gambell resident Jennifer Apatiki, whose husband hauled home a 55-gallon drum of free heating oil late last month. Heating fuel costs $4.65 a gallon in Gambell, and Apatiki said she has spending more than $600 a month to heat her home this winter.
"Devil, angel, whoever gave it to us, we're grateful," she said.
Citgo's offer was refused by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, a Native regional nonprofit corporation representing four eligible villages.