A bipartisan group of US lawmakers has expressed concern that “the Defense Department’s plan to downsize the Lajes Field in Terceira, Azores, will harm U.S. relations with Portugal,” the Air Force Times reported today.
According to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), a member of the Congressional Portuguese American Caucus, “We are nervous about how the Portuguese are going to react because this has become a political issue for them and – bottom line is – it harms them greatly,” he told the Air Force Times.
Nunes, who has roots in the Azores, “is worried that the Portuguese may limit U.S. access to Lajes Field or tell the U.S. to demolish inactive parts of the base rather than accept a nominal U.S. presence” said the Air Force Times.
Currently, there are three members of Portuguese descent in the US Congress, namely Devin Nunes, Jim Costa and David G. Valadao. Senator Patrick J. Toomey is also of Portuguese descent.
“They’ve been saying for three years now, since this first announced: ‘This doesn’t work for us; you can’t just leave us an empty base sitting there with fuel tanks and munitions stores and all this stuff,’” Nunes said in the interview. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the base; it’s huge. So they’ve said, ‘Look, if you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to come in and tear this out,” the Air Force Times reported.
Nunes also revealed that both US and Portuguese officials “are expected to meet in February to discuss the latest proposed personnel reductions at Lajes Field” and that “Lawmakers are waiting on the results of that meeting before deciding whether to take legislative action to resolve the issue.”
“We’re going to have decide as members of Congress: Do we need to step in and tell DOD, ‘Well, since you didn’t solve the problem, here’s what you’re going to do,’” he said. “We don’t want to do that, but we’re prepared to do it.”
The Air Force Times also reported that “In April, Nunes introduced a bill that would have moved the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response from Moron Air Base, Spain, to Lajes Field.” According to the report, the bill did not receive enough support for a vote in either chamber.
Early in January, the United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, had confirmed the Pentagon’s decision to downsize the US presence in the Lajes Field. Reacting to Hagel’s pronouncement, the President of the Government of the Azores, Vasco Cordeiro, expressed his frustration by denouncing the Pentagon’s decision as “a monumental slap in the face of the Portuguese Government.”
The decision will save the Pentagon an estimated $35 million annually. Downsizing the Lajes Field, the island’s second largest employer, will significantly impact the local economy.
In 2012, citing budgetary constraints, the US administration had informed the Portuguese government that it would significantly reduce its military presence at Lajes Field. The budget cuts come from a law enacted two years ago that ordered the government to come up with $1.2tn in savings over a decade.
Read the full report here.
Related on the Web: Global Security.org
The Azores (population 250,000) is a region of Portugal composed of nine islands. The archipelago discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century, became an Autonomous Region of Portugal in 1976. The government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores includes the Legislative Assembly, composed of 57 elected deputies, elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term; the Regional Government and Presidency, with parliamentary legitimacy, composed of a President, a Vice-President and seven Regional Secretaries responsible for the Regional Government executive operations. The Autonomous Region of the Azores is represented in the Council of Ministers of the Central Government by a representative appointed by the President of Portugal. Vasco Cordeiro, 41, the leader of the Socialist Party (PS) in the Azores, was sworn Regional President of the Government of the Azores on October 14, 2012.