Rice Hails Democratic Triumph in Chile

Three decades after the United States tried to oust a socialist president in Chile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday's inauguration of a socialist leader represents the triumph of democracy over a troubled history.

"I think it's good to remember that it's now been almost 20 years that the United States has been a friend and supporter of Chilean democracy," Rice said before arriving in this Latin American nation to attend the swearing-in for President-elect Michelle Bachelet.

Rice offered no apology for the Cold War-era U.S. support of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose military dictatorship Washington once saw as preferable to the rise of leftist governments close to home.

"I think that that past is now behind us," she said.

The United States counts Chile under outgoing President Ricardo Lagos as an example of a leftist government with which Washington enjoys strong economic and political ties.

Bachelet, who will be Chile's first woman president, was jailed and tortured under Pinochet. As head of the country's defense ministry before her election, Bachelet is seen as having played a key role in reconciliation among Chileans after the close of the Pinochet era in 1990.

She is expected to continue the free-market policies of her predecessor.

Rice was also holding a closely watched first meeting Saturday with new Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose politics are similar to Bachelet's but who campaigned with an anti-American edge.

"We want to have good relations with Bolivia," the secretary said. "We have had good relations with Bolivia and we want to maintain it."

Since his election in January, Morales has held a cordial phone call with President Bush and asked the United States to reconsider a proposed cut in anti-drug aid to Bolivia from $80 million to $67 million.

Morales led the often-violent struggle against U.S.-backed coca eradication efforts over the past decade, and has promised to retool Bolivian coca policy.

Bolivia and Brazil are among 12 Latin American nations that have lost U.S. military aid or training because of their stance on the International Criminal Court. Chile stands to lose aid this year unless it receives a waiver from Bush.

The United States insists that nations signing up for the Hague court exempt U.S. citizens from its reach. More than 100 countries have signed the immunity agreements covering U.S. citizens on their soil, but many others have refused.

Rice said Friday the policy may be shortsighted in some cases.

"We're looking at the issues concerning those situations in which we may have in a sense ... (been) shooting ourselves in the foot," she said.

Rice suggested the Bush administration will make more frequent exceptions for nations that are cooperating with the U.S. to combat terrorism or drugs, or that are help the war efforts in Afghanistan or Iraq.

"I think it's important from time to time to take a look to make sure were not having a negative effect on the relationships that are really important to us," she said.

The administration has long opposed the International Criminal Court, as do many conservatives in Congress. The court was set up in 2002 to hunt down perpetrators of genocide or other crimes against humanity, but its critics say it could become a tool for anti-American show trials.

Rice has no plans to meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another leftist populist who will attend the Chilean inauguration.

The United States increasingly expresses alarm about Chavez's domination of Venezuelan politics and his close ties to Cuban President Fidel Castro. Chavez has repeatedly accused the U.S. of trying to oust him, a charge American officials deny.