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Chávez restores free home heating oil program to US poor

In an abrupt turn, the Venezuelan president reinstated the program two days after its suspension.

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The Venezuelan government reversed course Wednesday, announcing that its US oil subsidiary would continue to provide free home heating oil to poor Americans two days after the government announced that the program had been suspended.

Critics of President Hugo Chávez had pummeled him since Monday for suspending a program that he had milked for its maximum publicity as a champion of the poor, even in the US.

In the wake of Monday's announced halt, analysts had predicted this was only the first of Mr. Chávez's ambitious foreign assistance programs that would disappear, given the sharp drop in oil prices and the Venezuelan government's dependence on oil export income.

Venezuelan government officials wasted no time in reinstating the program, which saved some 180,000 US households around $260 apiece in 2008. That covered about one month's heating bill.

Among the beneficiaries of the 100 gallons of heating oil per household were 65 Indian tribes, including those in Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota.

Alejandro Granado, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Citgo Petroleum, the Venezuelan government's Houston-based oil subsidiary, said he discussed the plan to renew the program with Chávez on Wednesday morning.

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