Nationals from all 12 South American nations will soon be able to travel throughout the region without visas, regional foreign ministers agreed Friday.
The decision at a meeting of foreign ministers of the South American Community is expected to become effective within 90 days, officials said. Visas will be exempt for nationals traveling between Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.
The visa exemption "represents a step in our efforts to eliminate our traditional divisions," said Chilean Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley.
Until now, countries in the region had a wide variety of visa policies, which changed frequently with political or economic conditions.
Brazilian Minister Celso Amorin said at the meeting in the Chilean capital of Santiago that regional integration must take into account the political differences in South America, where several leftist governments have been elected in recent years.
"We all defend democracy and democracy means accepting the options taken by the different countries," Amorin said.
He said integration is imperative "because in a world that in the future will be a world of large blocs, we will be stronger if we are united."
Foxley said efforts to promote regional integration must concentrate in three basic areas — improving transportation links between nations, energy cooperation, and reducing social inequities.