Commentary: A chance to strengthen U.S.-Chile relations

It's just coincidence that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's pre-scheduled visit to Chile this week comes on the heels of a shattering earthquake that outgoing President Michelle Bachelet has called "an emergency without parallel" in her country's history.

The disaster left behind widespread wreckage and claimed more than 700 lives. More will surely follow. Normally, this would not be the best time for a diplomatic visit, but Mrs. Clinton should seize the moment to cement a strong relationship with one of South America's most successful countries and its incoming president, Sebastián Piñera.

Although diplomatic relations between the two countries are cordial, a measure of resentment lingers among some Chileans over U.S. support for a military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet nearly 40 years ago. Ms. Bachelet was among thousands forced into exile in those years.

Mrs. Clinton's visit is an opportunity to overcome this painful history once and for all by emphasizing U.S. support for Chile's thriving democracy and extending a generous offer of assistance in Chile's time of need. Of course, ongoing efforts to help Haiti's devastated citizens must continue as well.

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