GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador, May 11 (UPI) -- Latin American states within the Union of South American Nations will need to reveal all when buying weapons and military equipment to ensure they don't trigger a politically destabilizing and expensive arms race on the continent, officials said.
Plans for transparency in all arms deals involving member countries were unveiled as leaders of UNASUR met in Ecuador's largest city for two days of talks on strengthening the organization.
UNASUR was set up as an answer to the Organization of American States, which has headquarters in Washington. UNASUR is modeled after the European Union, with military integration aims resembling those of NATO.
UNASUR member states are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador,
Guyana , Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. The 12 members together have a population of 384 million.
UNASUR backers say arms exporting countries in Europe have set sights on Latin America's trade surpluses and cash balances in a bid to raise their exports of weapons, equipment and expertise.
Russia, France, Sweden and Germany have entered into major deals for supply of military hardware. Russia has extended credit to Venezuela and France and Sweden are looking to sell tens of billions of dollars of hardware to Brazil.
Details of recent defense procurement deals remain patchy.
Although all arms-buying nations argue they need additional equipment for defensive purposes, critics, including the Obama administration, point out the purchases are disproportionate to the needs of Latin American nations.
Critics within the group argue the money spent on arms should be channeled to development, literacy and poverty reduction programs.
Leaders of the group agreed over the weekend to boost defense expenditure transparency to ensure regional stability. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador dub the United States' military collaboration agreement with Colombia a major threat to the region. The U.S.-Colombia deal provides for dual use of military bases in the country as part of a campaign against crime cartels supplying narcotics to North America.
Argentina and Chile will lead a task group to devise a system to monitor and compare military expenditures of member countries.
"Transparency of policies and investments in the field of defense is part of a major mutual confidence-building plan," said Ecuadorian Defense Minister Javier Ponce.
Ecuadorian Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said, "We have to exchange information on expenditure to develop adequate levels of cooperation in security and defense, replacing the long established mistrust and fears about a potential aggression from one of the neighbors."