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Citgo bedeviled by fiery speech

A Florida lawmaker wants the state to pull out of its turnpike contract with the Venezuelan subsidiary.

By DAVID ADAMS
Published September 26, 2006


MIAMI - A South Florida legislator wants to make Venezuela President Hugo Chavez pay for calling President Bush "the devil."

In what he describes as "a wakeup call for America," state Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, is requesting that Florida strip Citgo, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, of its contract to operate gas stations on Florida's Turnpike.

In a letter to Florida's secretary of transportation, Denver Stutler, Hasner said Chavez's U.N. attack on Bush last week was "more than the normal anti-American rhetoric he is notorious for and is part of his efforts to assume the role on the world stage as a leader of forces against America."

Terminating the state's turnpike contract with Citgo would "send a clear message to Chavez ... that the state of Florida will not support institutions that seek the destabilization of America."

Hasner also sent a copy of the letter to Gov. Jeb Bush, who is an outspoken critic of Chavez as well as being an advocate of alternative "biofuels," including sugar cane-based ethanol.

Hasner said Chavez's speech highlighted the urgent need for the United States to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by developing home-grown alternative fuels.

"It's important not to do business with a subsidiary of Venezuela," he said. "But it's not just about Hugo Chavez. Even more important is the message that we need to be less dependent on foreign oil for our security and for our environment."

Officials for the governor's office and the Department of Transportation confirmed receipt of the letter, but said no determination has been reached.

"The letter is being reviewed," said Department of Transportation spokesman Dick Kane.

Hasner said officials were exploring the "legal ramifications" of his request, which could be thorny.

The 312-mile toll road has seven rest areas about 45 miles apart, each exclusively serving Citgo gas. But Hasner said he was unclear when the current contract expired, or how costly it might be to break it.

Citgo has 14,000 branded gas station outlets in the country, including dozens in the Tampa Bay area.

Not since the 2003 "freedom fries" campaign over France's opposition to the war in Iraq has a foreign leader provoked quite such a strong reaction in the United States.

Chavez's speech was roundly condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike, including some of Bush's harshest critics.

Chavez's speech also prompted a call from a city councilor in Boston to take down a large neon Citgo sign that is visible from Fenway Park, the city's fabled baseball stadium.

Councilor Jerry McDermott wants to replace the sign with an American flag. But others in the city, including Mayor Thomas Menino, rallied to the defense of the sign, which is considered a landmark.

Citgo paid $1-million to refurbish the sign last year, said Citgo spokesman David McCollum. He downplayed the attacks on Citgo. "We leave the politics to the politicians," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. David Adams can be reached at dadams@sptimes.com His blog, The Fueling Station, is at blogs.tampabay.com/energy/

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 00:42:23]


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