South American Defense ministers meeting in Santiago de Chile urged the United States on Tuesday to end the nearly half a century economic and travel embargo on Cuba.
The issue was not on the agenda for the inaugural meeting of the South American Defense Council which was officially launched in Santiago and with the participation of the twelve countries that make up the Union of South American Nations, Unasur.
"A key element for the United States to have a better relationship with South America is a change in policy towards Cuba," said Brazilian Defense minister Nelson Jobim. Brazil has been the main sponsor behind the South American Defense Council.
Cuba may have threatened US security during the Cold War but "it now poses no risk whatsoever," said Uruguay Defense Minister Jose Bayardi.
The US administration of President Barack Obama offers the best hope in decades for Cuba's return to the Organization of American States after it was expelled nearly 50 years ago, said Argentine Defense minister Nilda Garré.
"Today we see favorable conditions for the new president in the United States to put an end to this discriminatory and unjust situation," she added. "This is a pending issue in our region."
The US House of Representatives passed legislation last month to ease restrictions on trade with Cuba and family travel to the island.
US President Obama has made clear he favors relaxing limits on family travel and cash remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba, although he has said the U.S. trade embargo should stay in place to press for democratic reforms.
The South American Defense Council is basically a multilateral forum for defense issues which should help to build confidence plus continue with the regional integration process.
Chilean Minister Jose Goni who hosted the meeting said that the new Defense Council does not aim to create a military force like NATO, but "to encourage a regional alliance to foster mutual confidence through integration, dialogue and cooperation in defense issues."
The Council seeks to strengthen South America as a "peacekeeping zone, a base for democratic stability and the peoples' integral development," Goni noted.
The organization held on Monday its first technical event, attended by deputy ministers and delegates, while ministers held private bilateral meetings, according to Santiago reports. Other issues in the agenda include defense policies, military cooperation, humanitarian actions and peacekeeping operations, industry and defense technology, training and agreeing on a mechanism to enable to compare military spending in the different budgets.
Ministers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Uruguay, and Venezuela participated in the two-day event.