Chávez made no secret of his disdain for the United States, especially after a 2002 coup that briefly knocked him out of power – the US did not condemn it until it was clear that the takeover had failed. But for all the public tension, Venezuela has remained an important supplier of crude oil to the US. True, it supplied 44 percent less oil to the States last year than in 1998, the year before Chavez came to power. But it remains a top tier supplier. And the decline has much to do with increasing domestic oil production, which has reduced the need for Venezuelan oil.
Still, the balance of power in the energy sector has changed. When Chávez came to power, Venezuela was a pivotal player in OPEC and the US was dependent on its oil as its own production continued to decline. Now, US production is resurgent, thanks to hydraulic fracturing technology. Venezuela's falling production has weakened its clout and its leverage. Its refineries are tottering from years of neglect, forcing Venezuela to import gasoline from the US to satisfy demand. Last year, a fire at the nation's largest refinery resulted in 42 fatalities.