The recent dramatic pronouncement that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez underwent cancer treatment in Cuba reverberated far beyond Venezuela, depressing his allies and elating his enemies.
While the leader of his self-proclaimed "Bolivarian revolution" is second only to his good buddy Fidel Castro in Washington's black book, the fact remains that Chavez has discreetly deployed Venezuela's vast oil and cash reserves to assist the struggling economies of a number of his Central American neighbors, which has earned him deep gratitude.
Ever the showman on alert for any opportunity to tweak Uncle Sam's snout, in March 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which damaged the U.S. Gulf oil infrastructure sending domestic prices soaring, he offered shivering New England residents discounted heating oil, infuriating the Bush administration.
Venezuela has the largest conventional oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere.
But the reality is that Venezuela remains the United States' fourth largest oil importer, accounting for roughly 1.5 million barrels a day. Should Chavez ever in a fit of pique turn off the taps, the only option that the U.S. would have to replace lost imports would be to turn to Saudi Arabia, the sole OPEC member, and ask them to ramp up production, as Saudi Arabia is the only OPEC member with the reserve capacity to do so.
This in turn would create political problems for Riyadh with other…