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Foreign oil problems won’t be fixed easily

Judging from the search results I’m getting for “Chavez” and “Citgo” on Google News, it seems people are finally seriously considering boycotting Venezuelan oil.

Most everyone knows about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by now – he’s that communist irritant in Venezuela who called President Bush “the devil” in a speech at the United Nations. Chavez was voted into office, but he’s been suspected of rigging elections. He even made an attempt to become president for life. Someone should tell his defenders – such as Cindy Sheehan – who chant “Let Venezuela decide” that Venezuelans won’t get to decide anything for themselves if Chavez becomes “president” (read: dictator) for life. But I digress.

The usual questions apply regarding a boycott of Venezuelan oil: whether a boycott would seriously damage the U.S. economy, whether government officials should take action against Citgo – the American arm of Petroleos de Venezuela SA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company – or whether Americans should just drive past those Citgo signs on their own. I have a feeling that if it came down to it, America could live quite easily without Venezuela or Citgo. State Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, feels the same.

According to the Miami Herald, Hasner wants to terminate Florida’s state contracts with Citgo. Hasner’s mind is in the right place, and he should be commended for addressing what is an increasingly tense issue as Chavez continues to test America’s patience. The only problem is that Hasner’s solution won’t work.

According to an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel by Jorge Pinon, a former president of Amoco Oil in Latin America, Citgo only sent about $800 million in dividends to Venezuela last year. Compare that to the $21 billion total in crude oil and refined products that Venezuela sent into the United States last year. It’s not just Citgo putting money into Chavez’s pocket – it’s others, too.

There are also thousands of Citgo station owners to be concerned about. Not to say those owners didn’t take risks like any other franchise owner when they bought a Citgo station, but considering the fact that a state-run boycott wouldn’t hurt Venezuela’s income that much anyway, why penalize thousands of entrepreneurs? On the other hand, America’s dependence on foreign oil has to stop somewhere, and Chavez is the perfect antagonist to elicit such a change.

In many ways, so is Citgo itself. To try to quell the responses by Americans against it due to the antics of Venezuela’s leader, Citgo publicly criticized efforts of a boycott by saying it “run(s) counter to the principles of a free-market economy, so cherished by all Americans.”

So instead of not saying anything – letting things blow over instead of drawing attention to them is an underrated strategy – or pointing out the fact that Citgo’s revenue is actually only a small part of Venezuela’s income, Citgo decided to declare the boycott idea ran counter to the principles of free-market economies. Excuse me, but I believe a boycott is actually an expression of the rights granted to Americans by a free-market economy. It’s called freedom of choice. Any company can be pushed out of a free market economy for any reason the consumers see fit.

Few companies have management as publicly controversial and supportive of destabilizing forces in the world as Chavez has shown himself to be, so Citgo is on the chopping block like everyone else. With all due respect to the entrepreneurs who own Citgo stations, tough noodles. It’s another aspect of the free-market economy – businesses fail sometimes, and people occasionally lose money.

At the same time, Pinon is correct. Citgo isn’t the problem here – Chavez is. Unless America wants to partake in another risky experiment in nation building, such as the exercise being carried out in Iraq, it doesn’t look like Chavez is going away any time soon. It is hard to forget that the Venezuela problem was sponsored by American dependence on foreign oil. Black gold? Texas tea? Try major international dilemma.

Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.