WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Joe Kennedy fired off a letter Monday in response to a Florida congressman's calls for him to stop airing television commercials that heap praise on Venezuela for its providing discounted heating oil to low-income U.S. households.
"If your moral indignation requires that we not accept the discount oil to distribute to our most vulnerable families, then that same high moral standard should require that you not drive your car because it, too, probably uses gasoline made from Venezuelan oil," Kennedy wrote in a letter sent to Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla.
"Maybe the fact that you live in Florida diminishes your concern for those who have to forgo food or medicine to pay for heat or turn to dangerous heating sources to stay warm, risking their lives to brave the cold," Kennedy wrote. "If so, maybe you could advocate that they move to your district to alleviate the need to figure out ways to protect them."
In a letter sent earlier in the day, Mack scolded Kennedy for the television ad that Mack says pays tribute to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, "a sworn enemy of the United States."
In the ad, Kennedy, founder and president of Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit energy company, thanks Venezuela and Citgo, a Houston-based oil company owned by the Chavez government, for contributing heating oil to low income senior citizens.
"I am Joe Kennedy. Help is on the way. Heating oil at 40 percent off from our friends in Venezuela at Citgo," Kennedy says in the commercial.
Mack said Kennedy's link to Venezuela sends the wrong message of support for Chavez.
"Hugo Chavez is using Joe Kennedy in a charade to try to deflect attention from the fact that his own country economically and politically, is falling part," Mack told FOX News. "I don't know how, in good conscience, you can, as an American, stand up and support someone like Hugo Chavez."
In the letter to Kennedy, Mack wrote: "Venezuela's Communist President Hugo Chavez is a sworn enemy of the United States. That is why there is absolutely no excuse for you to be praising him in television commercials and media interviews for any reason whatsoever."
Mack's letter continues: "While you have gone out of your way to publicly praise Hugo Chavez, he's gone out of his way to crush the hopes and dreams of the Venezuelan people and to destabilize freedom, democracy, and the United States interests throughout the Western Hemisphere."
Mack said the partnership is not providing discount oil, but allowing Chavez a venue to "exploit his apologists in the name of public relations. Sadly, you have chosen to actively participate in his charade, even as he continues to attack the United States, our leaders, and freedom-loving people everywhere."
Last year, Chavez, who has nationalized many of the country's industries and last month was given carte blanche by the country's Congress to rule by diktat over the next 18 months, stood at the dais during the United Nations General Assembly opening session and called President Bush 'the devil.'
"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, gesturing to where Bush had stood during his speech a day earlier. "He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world."
Earlier this year, Chavez, who is closely tied to Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, complained about the United States raising concerns over the decision to allow Chavez to rule by decree. "Go to Hell, gringos" was his response.
While gasoline in Venezuela costs about 12 cents a gallon because of government subsidies, Chavez has also made the effort to win over American fans by offering cheap heating oil through Kennedy's company.
The Citizens Energy Oil Heath Program, established in 1979, delivers oil to homes around the United States. Last fall, the company announced it was partnering with Citgo Petroleum to allow families to purchase one-time deliveries of up to 200 gallons of home heating oil at a 40 percent discount.
Citgo's heating oil program operates in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin and the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Citgo also provides discount oil directly to 163 Native American tribes in the states of Alaska, Maine, Minnesota and New York, the company says.
Citizens Web site promotes the program as a tool to aid the poor and elderly.
"This unique program helps protect needy families from volatile heating oil prices, which often leave households having to choose between heating the home and paying for other life essentials, such as food, health care, or clothing," according to Citizens' Web site.
Last fall, however, one Alaskan tribe, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, refused to accept the fuel aid, saying it would rather freeze than accept Chavez' aid after his tirade at the United Nations.
Kennedy admitted he has disagreements with Chavez, but asked in his letter: "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?"