President Bush pledged Friday that the events in Eastern Europe and elsewhere will not lead to U.S. neglect of its relations with Latin America.
"We are not going to neglect Central or South America. This is our hemisphere," Bush said shortly before concluding a 24-hour visit to Chile, as he continued also to monitor developments in the Persian Gulf.Bush told a gathering of the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce that with the restoration of democratic rule in Chile after 17 years of military government, "our two nations are united as never before."
He also said that economic reforms in Chile have led to a surge in foreign investment here and "even better times lie ahead." The Chilean example, he added, demonstrates that "market forces are the way to prosperity."
Bush planned a late morning flight to Venezuela, a longtime U.S. friend and major oil producer and the last stop on his five-nation swing to promote democracy and free trade.
Bush has praised Venezuela for increasing oil production from 2 million to 2.4 million barrels a day after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a move that has helped to ease inflation in world oil prices.
The price of oil has fluctuated wildly since August, rising when Persian Gulf tensions increased and receding when peace prospects seemed to improve. Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez has called for talks among consumers and producers to see if a way can be found to stabilize prices.
Officials said Venezuela advocates creation of a hemispheric oil reserve for emergencies but that the United States has so far shown little interest in the idea.
The gulf crisis has heightened Venezuela's importance to the United States and the rest of the hemisphere.
Bush hailed Chile's return in March to the democratic fold and praised the government for a reform policy that has led to a surge in economic growth.
Bush's Chilean visit was the first by an American president in 30 years. The welcome was not uniformly friendly.
Before Bush arrived, the guerrillas exploded a half-dozen bombs overnight at sites with U.S. ties, including four chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a new McDonald's restaurant and a downtown park outside a hotel where some officials in Bush's advance party were staying.
The president's limousine was hit by an egg thrown from the crowd as his motorcade passed through Santiago streets. Police reported no injuries.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to scatter scores of university students who staged an anti-Bush protest at a campus in the southern section of the city. The students threw rocks at police and blocked traffic for two hours in front of the campus.