BUENOS AIRES, DEC. 5 -- President Bush today praised the democratic and economic reforms that have taken hold in the Western Hemisphere, telling the Argentine Congress -- two days after a failed coup attempt by disgruntled army officers -- that "in Latin America the day of the dictator is over."
Bush's remarks came amid a day of pomp and ceremony, much of it designed to showcase Argentina's young democratic institutions. As Bush's motorcade crisscrossed the city, it went past several of the sites of Monday's insurrection.
Bush met President Carlos Menem at the presidential palace, less than a block from the army headquarters building where the mutineers held out for almost 18 hours before surrendering.
"The message today from Argentina is clear," Bush said. "Democracy is here to stay. Too many brave people sacrificed and died to bring democracy back to Latin America."
Bush praised Menem's firm action to quell the army revolt, and said the attempted coup made him more eager to come to Argentina to "stand shoulder to shoulder with President Menem and the Argentine people who love democracy and refuse to see it subverted."
"Violent assaults upon the rule of law represent the old way of thinking, the old way of acting," he added. "It is time to think anew."
Bush also praised Menem as the only Latin American leader to send forces to the Persian Gulf to help enforce the United Nations' sanctions against Iraq. Menem has been criticized here, even by members of his own Peronist party, for agreeing to deploy two warships to the gulf.
"I don't believe Argentina is sending frigates to the gulf to help the United States," Bush said during a joint news conference with Menem at the presidential palace. "I think they're sending frigates to the gulf because they believe, as we do, that we must stand up against this brutal aggression."
"We do not seek any retribution or any reward," Menem said. "That would be undignified. And if there is anything that the Argentines are known for, it is their sense of dignity."
It was a day for Argentina to showcase as many sides of the nation's complex character as could be crammed into Bush's 22-hour stopover, midpoint of a five-country South American swing.
He saw its love of ornate ritual, laying a wreath at a monument to Gen. Jose de San Martin, revered for liberating Argentina from Spanish rule. He saw its political contentiousness, when a socialist congressman briefly disrupted his speech. He saw its romance with the countryside, taking in a rodeo at a fairground.
The stop here marked the high point of Bush's journey, with a rousing ticker-tape parade from the presidential palace to Congress watched by thousands of cheering, flag-waving people.
Later, several thousand demonstrators rallied in the center of the city to protest Bush's visit. Their concerns included human rights and leftist causes.
"There's an old saying that when North Americans meet Argentines, they look into a mirror. I've felt that," Bush told the Congress in one of his several references to similarities between the two countries.
The flowering of democracy is a theme Bush has sounded repeatedly during this trip, but it had a particular resonance here. Just 48 hours earlier, Buenos Aires was under siege and air force jets were bombing a column of tanks that was moving on the capital from the north.
It was the fourth military insurrection against a civilian government since democracy returned to Argentina in 1983. Menem ordered a swift counterattack in a day of clashes that left at least 13 dead and scores injured. The rebels finally surrendered their last holdout, the army headquarters building, under threat of being bombed.
None of the questions at today's news conference dealt with the uprising or its aftermath. Reporters asked White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater whether the president approved of the death penalty for those involved in the rebellion. "We wouldn't comment on specific methods," he said, adding, "This is a fragile democracy."
Bush appeared unruffled by the brief protest in the congressional chamber. When he rose to spoke, he told the legislators, "Every once in a while you hear an echo from the declining past of Marxism. If that is the price . . . we pay for democracy, let's pay that price."
Bush said he approved the bilateral agreement by Brazil and Argentina last week to move forward on nuclear safeguards. He said that if nuclear cooperation goes further, the United States would be "eager and ready" to expand technical cooperation with both nations.
The failure of Brazil and Argentina to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has denied both countries access to some sophisticated U.S. technology. U.S. officials have said Brazil and Argentina must go well beyond their bilateral pact if those restrictions are to be eliminated.