SANTIAGO, CHILE, DEC. 6 -- President Bush promised improved political and economic ties with Chile today, saying the Latin American nation has undergone a transformation "every bit as far-reaching" as the upheavals of the last year in Eastern Europe.
Bush said Chile's economic policies put it in "the forefront of the free-market movement now taking hold across Latin America."
The president's arrival was preceded by six bombings, including one that exploded near the Santiago hotel where much of the White House staff is staying. No one was injured in the bombings, apparently carried out by leftist groups protesting the president's visit.
One of the cars in Bush's entourage was hit by an egg as the president rode from the airport to the home of President Patricio Aylwin, whose inauguration last spring restored democracy to Chile after 17 years of military rule under Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet remains as commander of the armed forces and was among those who greeted Bush on arrival.
Chilean reporters pressed Bush with questions about the 1976 assassination in Washington of ex-foreign minister Orlando Letelier, a foe of Pinochet, and about the aftermath of a 1989 embargo on Chilean fruit. U.S. officials had found two Chilean grapes with traces of cyanide.
Last Saturday, the White House announced it had lifted sanctions prohibiting military assistance and sales to Chile that were imposed by Congress after the Letelier bombing. The administration justified the decision by saying that Chile had taken steps to resolve the case here, including shifting jurisdiction of the case from the military to civilian courts.
The United States has been seeking to extradite Chilean officers implicated in the case.
Late last month, the administration approved new trade concessions to Chile. Earlier this fall, the two nations signed a bilateral trade agreement that is the first step toward Bush's eventual goal of a hemispheric free-trade zone.
"Chile has moved further, faster than any other nation in South America toward real free-market reform," Bush told the Chilean Congress in the Pacific seacoast city of Valparaiso, a short helicopter flight from Santiago. He said this made it "a prime candidate" for debt relief under his newly proposed Enterprise for the Americas initiative.
Aylwin said he planned to discuss the lingering effects of the grape embargo in his meetings today. Chilean officials say the five-day embargo cost Chile more than $300 million in exports. A General Accounting Office report found that the Food and Drug Administration acted properly in the case, but Chilean officials have faulted the FDA.
Staff researcher Bruce Brown contributed to this report.