After a year in which bilateral relations between the U.S. and Venezuela deteriorated significantly, many assumed that gestures of goodwill between the two countries were out of the question. This year, the U.S. sanctioned the Venezuelan government no less than four times, continued its economic warfare against the Latin American nation, and even threatened Venezuela with a potential military intervention over its domestic political crisis. While the Venezuelan government is surely sore at the U.S. government for its stepped-up aggression, it seems that Venezuela holds no ill will towards U.S. civilians, particularly those affected by the devastating flooding in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey.
In a move that captured hardly any media attention despite its generosity and timeliness, the Venezuelan government offered $5 million to victims of Hurricane Harvey last Thursday — its own economic troubles and shrinking cash reserves notwithstanding. The funds would be distributed through Citgo, the U.S.-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. Citgo has numerous employees and assets based in Texas, included a refinery in Corpus Christi.
Politicizing Disaster Relief
Venezuela, under the leadership of Hugo Chávez, had previously offered $1 million to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2004, along with food, water, fuel and other assistance. However, the offer was rejected by the Bush administration, which argued that accepting the aid would be “counterproductive.” The Bush administration also rejected offers of aid from Cuba as well as millions of barrels of crude oil donated by Iran.
The politicization of both offers and rejections of aid–whether by a corporation, a president, or a foreign government–adds a layer of cynicism and complexity that can do an unfortunate disservice to those in need.
This time, however, the Venezuelan government has decided to largely circumvent the federal government, instead opting to donate directly to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund set up by the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. On September 2nd, an initial donation of $3 million was made to the fund on behalf of Citgo.
The same week as new US sanctions against it, Venezuela still provides $5M aid to Hurricane Harvey victims abandoned by their government: pic.twitter.com/ljGGif8lsu
— Ajit (@aparajito_) August 30, 2017
— Paul Antonopoulos (@oulosP) August 31, 2017
Citgo has also offered to put an unspecified percentage of retail sales towards “rebuilding efforts in the most disadvantaged communities that were affected in our [Houston area].” Citgo’s acting president and CEO, José Pereira, in a letter to Mayor Turner, stated that “Several of our own employees and their families have been displaced in this storm and even rescued from harm’s way, so we are personally involved and understand how our communities are suffering.”
In addition to the offer of direct aid, Venezuela through Citgo has been providing free gas to rescue workers, firefighters and police in order to assist rescue efforts in areas affected by the historic flooding. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called the contribution an expression of solidarity during a televised briefing, adding that “when an American fills his tank at a Citgo gas station, he’ll be contributing to the rebuilding of the affected communities.”
Houston’s mayor expressed his appreciation for the generous donation, stating:
We are overwhelmed by the support from our corporate partners, including Citgo Petroleum Corporation. Their social responsibility is amazing and their generous contribution will go a long way to help Houstonians get back on their feet after this historic natural disaster.”
Despite the mayor’s expression of appreciation and the significant show of support Venezuela has offered and provided, Venezuelan relief contributions were largely uncovered by U.S. media. Only Reuters, Bloomberg and The Washington Post covered the Venezuela’s donation announcement, with the latter stating that the donation was “not be quite as charitable as it seems” and insinuating that it was “an opportunity to stick it in the eye of the United States.” Furthermore, on Twitter, the Post referred to Venezuela as an “enemy of the U.S.”
Venezuela, enemy of the U.S., offered $5 million in aid to Harvey victims https://t.co/gUTmyiBKVO
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) August 31, 2017
The Trump administration has been silent on the offer of aid, declining to respond to inquiries made by the Post. Meanwhile, Telesur reported earlier this week that U.S. sanctions against Venezuela had blocked 18 million boxes of food from entering the country.
Top photo | Evacuees escaping the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rest at the George R. Brown Convention Center that has been set up as a shelter in Houston, Texas, Aug. 29, 2017. (AP/LM Otero)
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