September 30, 2006, Washington Post, page D1, At the Pentagon Citgo, Price Trumps Patriotism, by Tomoeh Murakami Tse, Washington Post Staff Writer
He may have insulted the commander in chief, but President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela does his part to keep the U.S. military's men and women fueled up.
The gas station next to the Pentagon serving government workers pumps fuel from Citgo Petroleum Corp., owned by the Venezuelan state oil company. Still, men in dark suits and earpieces and women in military uniform streamed into the Citgo station yesterday, a week after Chavez depicted President Bush in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly as a certain horned character with a pointy tail and a pitch fork.
"It usually depends on how low I am on gas and how convenient it is," said Eric Hommel, who works for the Air Force, as he refueled his vehicle. The price, he explained, was also an important factor.
On that point, some agreed, suggesting that when it comes to gasoline, it's cost over country, price tag over patriotism.
"Everyone has their opinion of" Bush, said Raymond Folks, 30, a government contractor. "The bottom line is cheap gas prices."
Said his colleague, Todd A. Armstrong: "Aren't most things in the U.S. owned by someone else?"
"It's gas -- it makes the cars go," Folks added.
And so it went yesterday morning at the gas station. One after another, those who might have been expected to be most offended by Chavez's fiery rhetoric largely greeted it with a shrug.
"It doesn't matter. I'm indifferent," said one Army man who did not want to give his name, as the pump shut off with a clang.
Only current and retired military personnel and those driving government vehicles can fuel up at the station, whose prices generally are 10 to 20 cents less than the competition.
Several said they had no idea their actions were profiting the Venezuelan government. But when informed of the connection, one Defense Department employee expressed his displeasure with Chavez and declared that this was going to be the last time he would fuel up at any Citgo station.
"I don't like him. I don't like his philosophy. He's a dictator," said Oscar, who immigrated from the Philippines and equated Chavez with that country's dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, who died in 1989. He wouldn't give his full name.
Chavez's comments have been denounced by Democrats and Republicans alike, and prompted a fury of calls in the blogosphere for a boycott against Citgo.
Robert Turcios, an employee at the Pentagon Citgo, said it was difficult to gauge whether international politics was hurting the station's bottom line because the gas pumps had been closed much of the week for maintenance. They reopened yesterday.
"We've been busy the whole day," Turcios said.