Saturday, May 21

This Blog Stops for Fair-Trade Oil

The only oil I use for regular transportation is sprayed from a can of WD-40 once every four months or so on my bicycle chain. This amounts to an estimated annual expense of approximately 75 cents. At the same time, I realize that, due to a series of political decisions made over the past century, the daily consumption of oil for the sake of transportation is, for most, an essential aspect of participation in American society. The fact that, in the last few years, I have been able to escape this requirement and thus know all the attendant inconveniences and, yes, benefits, of traveling relatively oil-free is due largely to the good fortune of living near my place of daily occupation. I know, too, that, it is possible that, one day soon, if I remain living in America, this good fortune may change and that, to earn a living, I may be forced onto expressways of unwitting, benumbed, or regretful oil consumers. In the following post, I will therefore not simply preach the use of eco-friendly bicycles.

Although bikes are beautiful in so many ways and riding them has become an act of political defiance, in America, as in other industrialized nations, oil-thirst has been thrust onto the landscape like so many indelible and inescapable scars. This fact was once decried in mock piety in song lyrics written by Englishman Andy Partridge that often resonate in my head as I negotiate the increasingly commuter-clogged streets of a Western New York community whose actual population continues to decline: "Roads girdle the globe / We['re] all safe in your concrete robe / Hail mother motor / Hail piston, rotor / Hail wheel."

My point is that we drivers and internet surfers of the industrialized regions of the planet need other means of resistance to oil-thirst than our wonderfully foot-propelled cycles. That is why, today, I propose that readers contemplate Citgo, an oil company, and Oil Wars, a politically astute blog that covers events in oil-rich and democracy-friendly Venezuela. Let me now make the relationship between the two clear.
The reference to Citgo comes from a short article by Jeff Cohen that is posted at Common Dreams. In "Buy Your Gas at Citgo: Join the BUY-cott!," Cohen points out that Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuala's state-owned oil company and that,
Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."
Cohen also provides a handy link that will allow drivers to locate nearby Citgo stations of the 14,000 that exist in the US.

As Cohen explains,
With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.
This brings me to my second recommendation. A relatively new blog, whose stated purpose in the words of its keeper is to "make sure progressive people have access to accurate and timely news on Venezuela," provides links to sources that document US resistance to democracy in Venezuela, and comments on press in the US and Venezuela with both a great command of Spanish-language documents and a keenly critical eye. Consider these typical lines from the author of Oil Wars:
What concerns the U.S. isn't Venezuela becoming another Cuba -- that certainly is not going to happen. As has been mentioned here before even most Chavez supporters neither think nor desire that Venezuela become another Cuba. And having another Cuba wouldn't scare the U.S. so. A dictatorial country with a failed economy certainly isn't going to serve as a role model for change in Latin America.

But the Venezuelan model, with complete democracy, freedom, and a very successful economy all combined with extensive and highly popular social programs most certainly is a model which people all over Latin America are seeking to emulate. When Chavez shows up on a stage in Brazil with Lula it is Chavez who is cheered and who has to tell the crowd not to boo Lula. From the Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande there is no one more popular right now than Chavez with his 6 years in office and 70% approval rating. You don't win office in Latin America these days by running away from Chavez, you win by getting him to stand on the stage with you. And THAT has the powers that be in Washington mortified.
To that, my sole commentary is, "Vive la mortification! Vive la démocratie!"

To close this post, I note that, while the question has been debated whether there could exist such a thing as "fair-trade oil," Cohen's article suggests that not all oil is pumped equal, and Oil Wars shows us with great vigilance what this means, in particular as it relates to the populist government of Chavez and the Bush Administration's opposition to it.