Patriotism led to a rejection of the Venezuelan handout.
Leaders from four Western Alaska villages have rejected an offer of free heating oil from a Venezuelan- owned company because that nation's president this month called President Bush "a devil" and made other inflammatory comments about the United States.
"Despite the critical need for fuel in our region, the Unangan (Aleut) people are Americans first, and we cannot support the political agenda attached to this donation," read a statement from Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association released late Thursday.
Under a program from Texas-based refiner Citgo, which is owned by the Venezuelan government, that is giving cheap and free heating fuel to poor people across the country, more than 12,000 rural Alaska homes in about 150 villages are scheduled to receive 100 free gallons this winter.
But that gift has been criticized by some as politically motivated. They say Chavez is trying to make President Bush and the U.S. government look as if they don't care for their own people. Chavez also supports Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Nelson Lagoon, Atka, St. Paul and St. George face heating fuel costs between $5 and $6 a gallon, the press release said. They were the only four villages in the region scheduled to receive fuel.
Atka Mayor George Dirks said he didn't like the decision.
But tribal leaders and board members with APIA, the Native regional nonprofit, decided that supporting President Bush and the U.S. government was more important than free fuel, said Dimitri Philemenof, APIA president.
Philemenof called the decision strong and unified.
"When you look at the desperation in our region, especially with the fishing seasons poor and high unemployment, I take my hat off" to representatives of the four villages who made the decision, he said by phone from Tucson, Ariz., where he is on leave.
Philemenof said he's confident the right decision was made.
"People will say whatever they might want to say, but I feel from my heart and (others feel) also that this was the right choice because there's a lot of loyalty to the U.S. here," he said.