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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2006
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EDITORIAL

U.S. oil dependency blunts reaction against Chavez

Hugo Chavez, the leftist president of Venezuela, infuriated Americans and unified them by calling President Bush a devil while visiting the United States.

Even leading Democrats took offense at Mr. Chavez's speeches at the United Nations and elsewhere. The outrage was akin to the reaction against the Dixie Chicks' criticism of Mr. Bush while performing abroad in 2003. Americans criticize one another freely, but they don't like to see their countrymen criticize the nation abroad or to see foreigners come here and insult our leaders.

Some Americans are saying we should retaliate by not buying Venezuelan oil, including the products of Citgo, an oil company owned by the Venezuelan government. But that is easier to say than do.

Most boycotts harm innocent parties, such as the middlemen who sell products. Citgo sells through independent marketers, who do not necessarily embrace Venezuela's policies.

One dealer who recently changed to the Citgo brand has owned and personally run a service station in a small Alabama city for decades. He is a pillar of church and community whose business has helped him raise and educate a family full of productive, professional, contributing citizens. We can't imagine that he agrees with Mr. Chavez's politics.

Another problem is that Americans would find it difficult to live without Venezuela's oil.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's report on what countries we buy oil from, Venezuela was our fourth largest source of crude oil in July — ranking behind Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Venezuela sold us 1.19 million barrels per day. In total imports of petroleum, Venezuela was No. 3, ahead of Saudi Arabia.

If we are going to tell Venezuela that it can keep its oil or sell it somewhere else, we may have to learn to burn less oil. This would mean, among other things, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. But many Americans refuse to consider doing so unless the price of gasoline soars, and then our resolve to conserve is usually temporary. Meanwhile, our government refuses to set tough fuel-mileage standards and keep making them tougher.

Until Americans learn to burn less oil, our options are limited in responding to blowhards like Mr. Chavez, not to mention oil-rich Middle Eastern countries that foster terrorism.

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