CASA de Maryland set to accept $1.5M from Venezuela-owned Citgo Petroleum
Sarah Raymond, The Examiner
Immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland announced Friday that it will accept a $1.5 million donation from Citgo Petroleum Corp., controlled by a Venezuelan government led by strongman Hugo Chavez.
“We are thrilled that we have corporate partners like Citgo that recognize that there is poverty in this country and human needs,” said Kim Propeack, director of political action at CASA.
Though private, CASA receives state and county funds for assisting low-income immigrants in Maryland. The group has come under fire for its policy of not checking immigration status when it helps clients find jobs.
“This is just incredible that they would even accept this gift from Venezuela,” said Brad Botwin, director of Help Save Maryland, an anti-illegal immigration group. “We call on Gov. O’Malley and also Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett to repudiate CASA.”
Originally, CASA intended to announce the donation at a news conference Monday with Citgo officials and the Venezuelan ambassador. The news conference has been indefinitely postponed due to scheduling conflicts, according to a CASA spokesman.
Maryland officials have refused to interact with Venezuela in the past. In October 2007, Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich, D-at large, withdrew an invitation to the Venezuelan ambassador to visit Maryland and potentially fund local social programs, after Leggett frowned on the idea.
“Montgomery County can take care of its own problems. Thank you. No thank you,” Leggett stated at the time.
Leggett’s office does not object to CASA’s acceptance of the donation. “As a government, Montgomery County did not feel the need to receive anything from the government of Venezuela or make any efforts, but obviously private organizations can do what they want,” said Patrick Lacefield, Leggett’s spokesman.
CASA’s constituents have benefited from Citgo donations in the past. Since 2006, the Citgo-Venezuela Heating Oil Program has provided discounted oil to 12,000 low-income families in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Citgo began the national program in 2005 when it donated heating oil to the Citizens Energy Corp., whose chairman is former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. Media outlets and congressional representatives repudiated Kennedy, saying Chavez was using the program to highlight poverty in the U.S. while he ignored his own country’s struggles.
CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres visited Venezuela in November 2007 to lecture on youth leadership. A CASA spokesman said he did not know whether Torres met with Citgo representatives then.
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