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Bush: Venezuela's Chavez Defeat a 'Vote for Democracy'


President Bush says the people of Venezuela cast a vote for democracy when they rejected changes in their constitution proposed by President Hugo Chavez. We have more from VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson.

Among other things, President Chavez wanted to change the Venezuelan constitution to enable him to run indefinitely for re-election. Fifty-one percent of those who cast ballots voted no.

President Bush hailed the results at a White House news conference.

"The Venezuelan people rejected one-man rule. They voted for democracy," he said.

President Bush was then asked how the United States can best counter Mr. Chavez's efforts to gain influence throughout South and Central America.

Mr. Bush said one way is to increase U.S. trade ties with its neighbors to the south. He made specific mention of the pending U.S. free trade agreement with Colombia. He said if Congress kills the agreement, it will send the wrong signal.

"It would be an insult to a friend. It would send a contradictory message to a country led by a very strong leader, who is working hard to deal with some very difficult problems, one of which is armed gangs of people that are ruthless and brutal people who just kidnap innocent people for the sake of achieving political objectives," he said.

Congressional opponents of the deal say their objections are based on lingering concerns about the Colombian government's human rights record.

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