President Chavez and other officials have discussed letting go of Citgo for years. Since 2005, the company has sold about half of the 13,000 service stations it once owned in United States. But it still operates three American refineries. Lisa Viscidi covers Latin America for Energy Intelligence Group. She says some Venezuelan officials see selling Citgo as a way to further distance themselves from the U.S.
“There is also discussion about selling off assets in the U.S. to protect themselves against (the) international settlement dispute that they have with Conoco and Exxon after the 2007 nationalization.”
Viscidi says the talk about selling Citgo may actually result in some action this time. Venezuelan leaders are eager for some ready cash to pour into social programs.
“Last year, when oil prices were down, the government cut back spending on social programs and non-oil investments. But those are basically back up for the year. And they have presidential election in two years, so there’s always pressure to find more money.”
President Chavez says Citgo is worth at least $10 billion — about 10 times what Venezuela paid in the late 1980s when it bought Citgo from Southland Corporation. But analysts say this is not a seller’s market, and Venezuela ‘might’ get $5 billion, once a potential buyer comes forward. Viscidi says the average driver probably wouldn’t notice a difference in prices if and when Citgo gets a new owner, because Venezuela would likely continue exporting oil to the U.S.