03/06/2013 07:07 pm ET

Citgo Flying American Flags At Half-Staff In Honor Of Hugo Chavez (PHOTO)

American flags at many Citgo facilities across the country are flying half-staff today for a reason that's raising a few eyebrows.

The oil company, owned entirely by the government of Venezuela, has dropped the flags as a tribute to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who passed away March 5 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Chavez had a contentious relationship with the United States, and at one time, Slate recalls, the leader famously suggested that former U.S. President George W. Bush was the devil.

The intensity of Chavez's anti-American rhetoric has left many questioning the decision to lower the American flag in his honor.

ABC affiliate KTRK reports the American flag at Citgo's Houston headquarters appears to be slightly above other flags -- including a Texas state flag and a Venezuelan flag -- at the facility.

Citgo released a statement to KPLC-TV in Louisiana Tuesday, detailing its sense of loss for the leader, yet not directly explaining the decision to drop the American flag.


President Hugo Chávez of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela leaves behind a legacy of support for the underprivileged and promotion of social justice that transcends geographical boundaries. We at CITGO Petroleum Corporation are deeply saddened by the news of his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of Venezuela in this time of grief.

Per Title 4 of the U.S. Code, the American flag may be flown at half-staff following the death of "other officials or foreign dignitaries" if indicated in presidential instructions. However, private individuals and organizations are not legally bound to follow provisions regarding flag etiquette.

Legal or not, Citgo's decision has incensed many in the social media sphere.

Another tweet, from @KaydeeHart, included a picture of the flags.

Citgo did not immediately return a request for comment for this story.