Tuesday, October 03, 2006

America Responds Generously To Alaska Villagers Refusal To Accept Chavez' Heating Fuel

In response to a decision by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA), a non-profit Native corporation representing a number of villages in Southwest Alaska, to refuse a proposed heating fuel gift from Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, businesses and people around the country are digging into their pockets to make up the difference. Full story published in the Anchorage Daily News on October 3, 2006.

As a matter of fact, donations, including a huge one from several fishing companies, have been so numerous there might be enough to replace the gift -- and then some. "The response has been overwhelming," said Dimitri Philemonof, APIA President.

Texas-based refiner Citgo, owned by the Venezuelan government, is offering free fuel valued at about $5 million to 151 Alaska Native villages. Every household in each village -- more than 12,000 homes total -- would get 100 gallons under a program set to begin Nov. 1. Most villages, faced with the coming winter, few jobs and fuel prices exceeding $7 in some cases, understandably plan to accept the help, program organizers said. But APIA officials and tribal leaders from the four villages of Nelson Lagoon, Atka, St. Paul and St. George rejected it after Chavez denounced Bush as "the devil" during an inflammatory speech at the United Nations nearly two weeks ago.

News reports of the rejection Friday prompted more than 150 calls and e-mails of support from people around the country, APIA officials said. Only one comment was critical, they said. Additionally, the conservative website Free Republic picked up the story, opening up a specific discussion thread attracting more than 50 comments, to include some pledges of financial support, to date. Two typical comments, "God bless these people!!!!!!!", and "Suddenly I like Alaska -- maybe I'll visit next summer" reflected the prevailing sentiment.

One ordinary Anchorage couple is digging particularly deep. Anchorage elementary school teachers Kacey and Steve Magestro will shell out $1,000 to help. "Our feeling was you don't have to like your leaders, or agree with them, but there's a respect factor," Kacey said. Making this sacrifice more commendable is the uncertainty over their future employment because of the current impasse in contract negotiations between the Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Education Association (AEA). In fact, the AEA's new bargaining team proposes the next round of negotiations beginning October 11th.

Frank Williams, an owner of Kenai River Drifter's Lodge in Cooper Landing, called the decision brave. The four villages pay $5 to $6 a gallon for gasoline, APIA says. "They're standing up for what's right, not for what they want," he said. Williams spent part of Friday calling representatives with banks, oil companies and the governor's office to rouse support, he said. But while everyone enthusiastically supported the villages' decision, he said that no organization or business promised to commit money at that time.

Four fishing companies are shelling out $92,000, said Joe Kyle, chief operating officer of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA - separate and distinct from APIA), which would give every household in the association's Southwest Alaska service area $500, he said. The organization, formed to work on fisheries issues in the region, will donate half the money, Kyle said. APICDA partners Trident Seafoods and the Starbound Partnership in Seattle, and Prowler Fisheries in Petersburg, agreed to offer the rest, he said.

Officials with the companies called the rejection "patriotic" and wanted to make sure the communities didn't suffer this winter, he said. The companies' gift will go to every village in the fishing association's service area. That includes three villages -- False Pass, Akutan and Nikolski -- that weren't originally on the list to receive Venezuelan fuel. However, qualifying villages must be at least 80 percent Alaska Native. This latter part is unfortunate, but is driven by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and so our battle over this issue should be with the Federal government, and not with the predominantly Native communities of Southwest Alaska.

When contacted by the media, representatives with the Governor's and Lieutenant Governor's offices said they knew of no new state efforts to assist the four villages at the moment.

However, APIA's decision to reject Venezuela's free heating fuel did not set well with some locals, particularly in Atka. On Friday, September 29th, Atka Mayor George Dirks characterized the decision as "stupid", claiming that many villagers are "just scratching by". Millie Prokopeuff, a wellness advocate at the Atka clinic, while expressing gratitude for the generous response of fellow Americans, stated that the 100 gallons of Venezuelan heating fuel would have provided about a month of heat, and that it really didn't matter to her who provides it. "Choosers can't be picky, you know," she said.

APIA has created the Unangan Energy Assistance Fund at Key Bank, and intends to use donations above and beyond those needed simply to replace the rejected Venezuelan fuel to pay for more energy assistance in the villages. APIA President Philemonof expressed gratitude for America's response and cites it as validation for their decision to reject the Venezuelan fuel. The account number is 729681009001. Donations can be made at any Key Bank or can be mailed to:

Unangan Energy Assistance Fund
c/o Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association
201 East Third Ave.
Anchorage, Alaska 99501.

Donations are tax deductible as a contribution to a 501c3 Not For Profit TIN # 92-0073013.

Commentary: Because of the high cost of heating fuel in Bush Alaska, it is important NOT TO DEMONIZE the majority of Bush villages who still intend to accept Venezuelan fuel until we can come up with an alternative to enable them to cope with shyrocketing energy costs. Denigrating the economy of Bush Alaska as a "false economy" does not help them solve the problem. Remember, it was George W. Bush and his neocons who transformed America into a predatory, Darwinian casino economy where those whose skills are arbitrarily not valued are kicked to the curb and left in the dust. While Anchorage school teachers fight for a raise that at least helps them keep up with the cost of living, three executives of the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA), already munificently compensated, were rewarded even further with gratuitous pay hikes of nearly 50% despite the fact that not a single shovelful of dirt for the proposed Knik Arm Bridge has yet to be turned.

Instead, we should continue to focus on the actions of APIA as an example of the highest form of patriotism. The generous outburst of financial support from America so far may motivate more Alaskan villages to reject Chavez' offer.

And the real issue is not the mere fact that Chavez criticizes the United States and the Bush Administration. He has every right to do so. Much of Chavez' criticism is not misguided. In addition, his courageous advocacy on behalf of Iran has conferred some protection upon them against the Bush Administration's barely repressed bloodlust against that country. Despite slowly losing the first war in Afghanistan and hopelessly bungling the second war in Iraq, this Administration wants to start a third war in Iran. The Bush Administration needs to be stopped, even if it takes the desperate extreme of electing a Democratic U.S. Senate in November to induce gridlock and tie the Administration in knots. An essay suggesting this possibility was recently posted on LewRockwell.com. We simply cannot afford any more pre-emptive wars (although Afghanistan wasn't pre-emptive).

In 1844, the first Mormon prophet Joseph Smith warned us that "the United States will spend its strength and means warring in foreign lands until other nations will say 'let us divide up the lands of the United States'" (documented on page 10 of Duane Crowther's book "Prophecy: Key to the Future"); the first half of this prophecy is being fulfilled as we speak, and the groundwork for fulfilling the second half of the prophecy is being laid with the organization of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), organized by Russia and China to "create a more multipolar world").

No, the real issue is that Hugo Chavez came to this country, and then, as a guest of our country, deliberately and flagrantly insulted our country's president by calling him a devil. This is an intolerable breach of etiquette; only an uncivilized ingrate would enter a man's house, partake of his hospitality, then repay him by insulting him. This is just as outrageous as Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson leading a rally against George Bush during his recent visit to Utah. Elective office requires a higher level of responsibility and a more refined standard of behavior. Unfortunately, Chavez, being a half-civilized mestizo, knows little about the intricacies of diplomacy and etiquette. Chavez misread the American people and misinterpreted the robust criticism of Bush in our society; he forgot about the Arabic proverb "me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother, and my cousin against the outsider". We may fight amongst ourselves, but when a foreigner jumps in, that foreigner will have a fight with ALL OF US.

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