Jack Tame: Hugo is dead, long live cheap gas

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Citgo gas stations are among the Venezuelan businesses Americans boycott

Citgo gas stations are among the Venezuelan business that Americans boycott.
Citgo gas stations are among the Venezuelan business that Americans boycott.

Lee Gallagher couldn't believe how cheap the petrol was.

$3.70 a gallon in upstate New York worked out at about $1 a litre; in New Zealand it was more than twice that. No wonder Americans drove such inappropriately large cars. He'd always assumed the obsession was some deluded expression of American nationalism, a wide-axled, fuel-injected, patriotic, pissing contest. Maybe a new Hummer made sense, after all.

Gallagher is a 27-year-old marketing executive who moved to New York from his home town of Christchurch. In his first few weeks on American soil, he borrowed his American in-laws' car, oblivious to the politics of the pump.

And it seemed that, in this land of comparatively puny pump prices, Gallagher had somehow discovered the puniest. It was a station off a motorway, close to home, where the gas came cheaper than anywhere else nearby by almost 20 cents a gallon. Boon!

It wasn't until Gallagher boasted of his thrift, that his in-laws recoiled in treasonous horror.

"What!" they exclaimed. "How could you shop at Citgo? You know that's owned by the Venezuelans?"

Gallagher didn't know, but it accounted for the cheap gas. And perhaps, too, it accounted for why the Citgo forecourt had seemed comparatively quiet to the other stations he'd passed. Many Americans are so opposed to the Hugo Chavez regime they still actively boycott Venezuelan businesses and gas. In 2006, after a particularly tense few months of US-Venezuela relations, 7-Eleven stores across the United States ended 20 years of pumping Citgo fuel. The convenience store even published signs on their gas pumps assuring customers of the fact.

A spokeswoman was quoted as saying (Chavez) "didn't tempt us to stay with Citgo".

When Hugo Chavez's death was confirmed, Citgo offices lowered their flags to half-mast, to the outrage of passing Texan motorists. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the White House didn't reciprocate.

Instead, it offered a carefully worded diplomatic message, expressing interest in "developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government".

An American delegation attended the Chavez funeral and, if elections proceed, US officials and consumers will watch with keen interest. Not just to see whether Chavez's brand of brutal socialism continues, or whether the new Venezuelan President is so stridently anti-America.

Venezuela still boasts one of the largest oil reserves on Earth. And Gallagher's family would love some cheap guilt-free gas.

- Herald on Sunday

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