BOSTON (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II offered his prayers Tuesday to the family of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying he cared deeply about the poor and helped nearly two million Americans through the former lawmaker’s heating assistance charity.
Kennedy, who heads Citizens Energy, said Chavez cared about the poor at a time when ‘‘some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend.’’
A spokesman for Kennedy said Chavez and the people of Venezuela have donated about 200 million gallons of heating oil over an eight-year collaboration with Citizens Energy. The charity distributes heating oil to lower income families in 25 states and Washington, D.C., offering 100 gallons per family.
Kennedy, a son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, founded Citizens Energy in 1979 with the goal of reducing home heating oil costs for the poor and elderly after the energy crisis of the 1970s.
The former Massachusetts Democratic congressman drew fire from U.S. critics of Chavez when he began the fuel assistance collaboration with Venezuela’s state oil subsidiary in 2005. The critics said Chavez was using the heating oil program as propaganda against the Republican administration of President George W. Bush.
Kennedy’s son, newly elected U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass., also released a statement saying his thoughts and prayers are with Chavez’s family. He said it is his hope ‘‘the United States and Venezuela can build a productive relationship for the future.’’