BOSTON - Former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II offered his prayers Tuesday to the family of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying he cared deeply about the poor and helped nearly two million Americans through the former lawmaker's heating assistance charity.
Kennedy, who heads Citizens Energy, said Chavez cared about the poor at a time when "some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend."
A spokesman for Kennedy said Chavez and the people of Venezuela have donated about 200 million gallons of heating oil over an eight-year collaboration with Citizens Energy. The charity distributes heating oil to lower income families in 25 states and Washington, D.C., offering 100 gallons per family.
Kennedy, a son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, founded Citizens Energy in 1979 with the goal of reducing home heating oil costs for the poor and elderly after the energy crisis of the 1970s.
The former Massachusetts Democratic congressman drew fire from U.S. critics of Chavez when he began the fuel assistance collaboration with Venezuela's state oil subsidiary in 2005. The critics said Chavez was using the heating oil program as propaganda against the Republican administration of President George W. Bush.
Kennedy's son, newly elected U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass., also released a statement saying: "My thoughts and prayers are with President Chavez's family," the younger Kennedy said in a statement. "In this time of transition, it is my hope that the United States and Venezuela can build a productive relationship for the future."
On Dec. 6, 2005, Rep. Jose Serrano, D. N.Y., along with Citgo CEO Felix Rodriguez, leaders of neighborhood organizations, and Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, delivered the first installment of 8 million gallons of Citgo heating oil earmarked for New York City, to be sold to those in need at a substantially reduced rate.
Rep. Serrano issued this message: "Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor. He was committed to empowering the powerless. R.I.P. Mr. President.
Serrano represents one of the most Democratic and heavily Hispanic districts in the country, in New York City.
On Jan. 27, 2006, Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa.. announced that Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of the publicly-owned Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA, was going to begin shipping 5 million gallons of discounted heating oil to Philadelphia as part of a plan to provide assistance to 25,000 low-income families throughout the city.
AP, Dan Margolis, Rosita Johnson, and Barbara Russum contributed to this article.
Photo: In November of 2005, Joseph P. Kennedy II, chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corp, right, carries a fuel oil hose to a home in Quincy, Mass. Venezuelan officials had just signed an agreement to provide 12 million gallons of discounted home heating oil to low-income Massachusetts residents. The fuel was offered by Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Charles Krupa/AP