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Citgo sales down after Chavez speech

TULSA, Okla. – Some gas station owners in Oklahoma are dropping the Venezuelan state-owned Citgo brand, saying sales have dropped significantly since the Venezuelan president criticized President Bush in a speech last month.

The president of Tulsa-based Arkansas Valley, a wholesale distributor which delivers Citgo gas to about 30 stations in Oklahoma and Missouri, said sales fell 10 percent to 15 percent after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s United Nations speech in which he referred to Bush as “the devil.”

“We started losing business at our stores,” company President Weister Smith told the Tulsa World newspaper. “Some of our independent retailers came to us and asked us to make a change away from Citgo. Some of them actually covered up their Citgo signs.”

Citgo Petroleum Corp., which sells gas through 13,700 Citgo stations in the U.S., said in July it planned to stop supplying fuel to 1,900 Citgo-branded stations in 10 states, including those in Oklahoma, by March. However, some independent retailers want their suppliers to speed up the transition to another brand, fearing motorists will decide to fill up elsewhere.

Shortly after Chavez’s speech, Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. said it was dropping Citgo as a supplier and that Chavez’s comments factored into its decision. Citgo denied 7-Eleven’s claim, saying the retailer had plans to switch suppliers before the speech.