Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Alfredo Moreno Charme said he does not see an "arms race" on the continent but emphasized it would help to make public who was buying what and why. Other officials told the media they want Chile's neighbors to follow its example.
The Stockholm Peace Research Institute cited statistics and official pronouncements to indicate South American arms acquisitions continue to be a source of tension. SIPRI cited Peruvian President Alan Garcia's call for a military non-aggression pact among countries in South America.
Garcia, who traveled in the region in 2009 to campaign for cuts in arms purchases and channeling of resources to development and poverty reduction programs, called for commitment to transparency and confidence-building to remove concerns over armament.
Spurred by commodity export profits and high oil prices, Latin American states have poured billions of dollars into weaponry purchase programs. Some nations, including oil-rich Venezuela, have borrowed more from arms suppliers such as Russia but have not divulged details of the transactions.
A $2.2 billion deal Russia secured in Venezuela will enable President Hugo Chavez to acquire tanks and armored vehicles on credit. The Venezuelan opposition has criticized the deal.
Although some details of the deal emerged, including agreement on supply of a new air defense system, details remain patchy. Venezuela's armor purchase from Russia includes 92 T-72MIM Russian tanks, SIPRI said.
Brazil has announced a multibillion-dollar military regeneration program that includes revival of its defense manufacturing and exports and the construction of a nuclear powered submarine, likely with French help. Another French deal for Rafale jet fighters is under negotiation.
In 2009 Brazil began taking delivery of 220 second-hand Leopard-1A5 tanks from Germany and Chile bought 140 of Leopard-2A4 tanks, also secondhand. Peru went instead to China, which offered 80 MBTS-2000 tanks on easy terms.
"While the majority of major weapon systems are being sourced outside the region, companies within South America are also benefiting from the increase in acquisitions," said SIPRI.
Chile and Ecuador bought Super Tucano trainer and combat aircraft from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer. The aircraft was deployed in military action involving Colombian rebels and the Bogota government, which signed an extensive military collaboration agreement with the U.S. That deal, too, involves various arms transfers.
Details of most arms transactions in Latin America remain unknown or have only partly been disclosed to the media.
Moreno said, "Chile currently has made all its military expenditure transparent and known to the Organization of American States, to the United Nations and I think all countries should follow along the same path."