( Reuters ) - Venezuela's vote rejecting an effort by President Hugo Chavez to run indefinitely for re-election was a vote for democracy, U.S. President George W. Bush said on Tuesday.
"The Venezuelan people rejected one-man rule," Bush said at a White House news conference. "They voted for democracy."
In a fiercely contested referendum, voters refused to back reforms that would have scrapped term limits on Chavez's rule, boosted his powers to expropriate private property and allowed him to censor the media in emergencies. The "No" camp won 51 percent of the vote while Chavez's camp took 49 percent.
Still, Chavez remains popular and in control of most of the country's institutions. But it was his first ballot box loss since he swept into office in 1998 in Venezuela, the No. 4 oil supplier to the United States.
Bush also said that the United States would be in a better position to help South American allies and marginalize Venezuela by passing free trade agreements with countries like Colombia.
"The United States can make a difference in South America in terms of Venezuelan influence," Bush said. "United States policy can help promote democracies and stability and ... if the Congress does not pass the free trade agreement with Colombia, it will be a destabilizing moment."