Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was warmly praised here Friday by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera in a visit that gave the Spaniard the chance to offer a message of optimism about his nation's economy.

"We will soon enter a stage of growth in jobs and the economy during which the improvements will reach the people," Rajoy said in a joint press conference with Piñera at Chile's presidential palace.

Both leaders hailed the excellent state of bilateral relations, which on Friday were strengthened with the signing of an update of the Strategic Plan originally signed in 2006.

An update that will spur increased collaboration in the fields of science, culture, education, tourism and clean energy.

The Chilean president praised Rajoy's work as head of the Spanish government after taking office "in difficult times."

"But good captains are not judged when the waters are calm, but in stormy seas," Piñera said, referring not only to the structural reforms implemented in Spain, but also to the Iberian nation's dynamism and capacity for growth.

"The night is always darkest before the dawn," Piñera reminded Rajoy. "And I'm sure that Spain is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

Rajoy said he had to take decisions in Spain that were difficult but necessary.

They're decisions, he said, that will allow 2013 to be better than last year and that will create jobs in 2014, while continuing to reduce the deficit.

Rajoy's conservative government announced earlier Friday an extension of a financial aid program for unemployed people whose eligibility for standard jobless benefits has expired.

The news came a day after new data showed Spain ended last year with an unemployment rate of 26.02 percent, equivalent to more than 5.9 million people out of work.

The Spanish economy remains hampered by the fallout from the collapse of a long-building housing bubble, which left many of its banks saddled with toxic assets. EFE