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7-Eleven announced today that it'll stop selling Citgo gasoline at more than 2,100 convenience stores across the country. Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. The company has been taking some heat over last week's U.N. speech by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez called President Bush the devil. 7-Eleven says Citgo was going to be dropped even before this Chavez tirade.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: 7-Eleven gas pumps have carried the Citgo logo for two decades. So when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez crudely condemned President Bush on the floor of the U.N. last week, 7-Eleven drew a pretty big gulp. The company said in a statement, quote, “regardless of politics, we sympathize with many Americans' concern over derogatory comments about our country and its leadership.”
Still, spokewoman Margaret Chagris(ph) says 7-Eleven's supply switch has been in the works since last year.
Ms. MARGARET CHAGRIS (Spokeswoman, 7-Eleven): Our 20 year agreement is up and we're branding our gasoline. It's just coincidental that it follows on the heels of certainly some controversial remarks he made last week.
HORSLEY: 7-Eleven notes that all of its new gasoline suppliers will be U.S. companies. The convenience store chain plans to replace the Citgo signs at all of its gas stations, but says that process could take more than a year.
The most famous Citgo sign is not on a 7-Eleven store, but near Boston's Fenway Park. After Chavez spoke last week, Boston City Councilman Jerry McDermott called for replacing the 1965 landmark with an American flag.
Mr. JERRY MCDERMOTT (Boston City Councilman): I don't get the warm fuzzies when I look at that Citgo sign in Kenmore Square anymore. It doesn't mean what it once meant to me, you know, that you're in Kenmore Square and you're on the way to the Red Sox game. It now for me represents a farm regime, which is seriously bent on doing us harm.
HORSLEY: McDermott, who is a Democrat, says so far reaction to his plan has been mixed. But he has heard from some customers who say they're willing to pay more for gasoline rather than patronize a Citgo station.
Citgo's the nation's fifth largest marketer of gasoline and losing 7-Eleven's business may not be all bad for the company. Lately, Citgo's own refineries have been unable to keep pace with demand. In July, Citgo announced it would shrink its own network of gas stations, pulling out of 10 states.
Analyst Terrence Murray, who's with the trade publication Energy Intelligence, says Citgo should be able to sell all the gas its refineries produce even without the 7-Eleven stations.
Mr. TERRENCE MURRAY (Energy Intelligence): I would say temporary bad publicity for them. But in the end, they do sell a commodity that is in high demand and they will find someone.
HORSLEY: Citgo and its Venezuelan parent company built some good will last winter when they sold discounted heating oil to low-income residents in the northeast. Chavez promised to expand that program this winter, the very day after his U.N. speech.
Despite ideological differences, Murray says oil-rich Venezuela and the oil-hungry United States are locked in a mutually dependent embrace.
Mr. MURRAY: It's a typical love/hate relationship that Chavez needs the U.S., the U.S. needs Venezuela and they'll probably bicker at each other as long as Chavez is in power.
HORSLEY: Even as it severs ties to the oil company, 7-Eleven reminded customers Citgo has some 4,000 employees in the U.S. The company says a boycott of Citgo would be misdirected, hurting those American employees with no substantive connection to Venezuela.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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