Skip to comments.Unfulfilling stations -- Citgo boycott leads owners to drop Venezuelan supplier
Posted on 03/04/2008 7:54:39 AM PST by SmithL
The Bush administration may be trying to ignore Hugo Chavez, but some local gas station owners are moving to protect themselves from the backlash against the Venezuelan president's anti-American rhetoric.
Calls by some across the country to boycott gasoline sold by Venezuelan-owned Citgo are cutting into sales, prompting some station owners to move to other suppliers.
George Vazquez, owner of a convenience store and gas station on Kingston Pike in West Knoxville, is among several local independent Citgo station operators who will be switching to Marathon Oil of Findlay, Ohio, in the coming weeks.
"My gas sales were down 30 percent last year," Vazquez said. "People will come into the store and buy groceries, but they tell me they won't buy gas from Citgo."
The problems with Citgo increased after Chavez's September 2006 visit to the United Nations where he referred to President Bush as "the devil."
Calls for boycotts of Citgo were heard in states from Massachusetts to Florida following Chavez's U.N. visit. Shortly after the U.N. speech, 7-Eleven stores announced they would cancel a 20-year contract with Citgo that supplied 2,100 stations. Several Internet sites also are devoted to promoting the boycott.
Vazquez said he began negotiations with Marathon late last year after discussing his problems with other Citgo station owners. He decided that the anti-Chavez sentiment was translating into a growing anti-Citgo sentiment among customers.
"The problem is not Citgo; the problem is who owns Citgo," he said. "I decided we needed to change brands."
Citgo, based in Houston, is owned by PDV America Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the national oil company of Venezuela.
"All of our stations are independently owned," said Annabell Lopez-Curtis, spokeswoman for Citgo in Houston. "They make their own decisions."
Banners at Vazquez's store proclaimed the switch to "American-owned" Marathon. A lighted sign visible from Kingston Pike declared "Hugo Chavez you are out of here."
Vazquez, who immigrated to the United States from Argentina 32 years ago, said he is not trying to make a political statement against Chavez but that he is only responding to the sentiments of his customers.
Tom Yoskovich, who works at Gridley Auto Sales next door to Vazquez's store, said he has been happy to buy coffee and other things from the store but reluctant to buy Citgo gasoline because of the connection to Chavez.
"I won't buy Citgo," Yoskovich said. "Once he (Vazquez) switches to Marathon, I'll be happy to buy his gas."
Ohio-based Marathon is gaining strength in Tennessee. The number of Marathon stations in Tennessee increased from 84 to 103 between March and December 2007, said Marathon spokeswoman Linda Casey.
The new Marathon stations have converted from a variety of other brands, including Citgo, but there is a clear trend with Citgo gas retailers, Casey said.
"There has been a reaction to our friend Chavez," she said. "It's hurting their business."
I canceled my CITGO card after the “devil” statements.
I had moved to where we don’t have any CITGO stations & my card had been languishing in a file. But when I called to cancel it I told them it was because of Chavez. Which was true in a way because I would have canceled it even if there were any stations around here. I have plenty of gas cards, no need to support that jerk.
Hess and Hugo are only together in capitalizing one refinery in the Carib.
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