Portuguese American Journal

Community: Massachusetts legislators appeal to President Obama about Lajes Field – Boston, MA

The Massachusetts Portuguese American Legislative Caucus, a group of  state legislators of Portuguese descent, have addressed an appeal letter to President Barack Obama petitioning for a review of the US policy regarding the downsizing of the Lajes Air Force Base, on Terceira, Azores.

Dated of March 10, 2015, the letter is undersigned by State Senator Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton/ Senate Chair), State Representative António Cabral (D-New Bedford /House Chair),State Senator Viriato M. DeMacedo (R-Plymouth), State Representative John V. Fernandes (D-Milford) State Representative Alan Silvia (D-Fall River), and State Representative David T. Vieira (D-East Falmouth).

The letter is also copied to US Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, US Secretary of State John Kerry and members of the US House and Congress from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, California, Ohio and Texas.

In the letter to President Obama, the Portuguese American Massachusetts legislators express their concerns over the Department of Defense plans to significantly scale back the Lajes Field on Terceira, Azores.

The letter follows a recent visit by the Massachusetts Portuguese American Legislative Caucus to Lisbon, Portugal, were a delegation of US policy makers and Portuguese government representatives met in February to debate in great detail the repercussions of such decision.

In their letter, the Massachusetts legislators inform President Obama of the remarks made in Lisbon by the President of the Government of the Azores, Vasco Cordeiro, voicing how he foretells “of the negative impacts the reduction will have on the island of Terceira, including financial problems for its people and the Azores as a whole.”

The Massachusetts legislators also inform President Obama that President Vasco Cordeiro warned the US “of the impact the reduction could have on the historic relations shared between Portugal and the United States, which is home to a significant number of Portuguese immigrants, and their descendants who live, work and vote in America.”

“If President Cordeiro is correct in saying the Department of Defense will phase out the base in three years, as compared to the five years typical of other jurisdictions, it seems as though Terceira will suffer more than any other jurisdiction in Europe, especially if unemployment increases do 55 percent, as the president projects,” the Massachusetts legislators warn President Obama.

What’s more, the letter adds, is that, “according to the Department of Defense, the move will cost the United States about $1.5 billion to eliminate an environmental footprint a major reduction could leave behind.”  For the Massachusetts legislators, “There must be a better way to deal with this issue,” as they remind President Obama  that given the Azores’s geographic location, “the United States ought to approach this issue in a more strategic way.”

The letter also reminds President Obama of such strategic relevance by affirming that “The Azorean islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, putting them in an advantageous position to monitor what is in the Atlantic Ocean, and the increase trade through Panama Canal, the United States should capitalize on the opportunity to increase transatlantic trade through a maritime trade center in the Azores.”

Like others before  them, who have expressed concern that the Defense Department’s plan to downsize the Lajes Field could harm US relations with Portugal, the Massachusetts legislators stated in their letter to President Obama that “If we [the United States] do not achieve a better diplomatic position on this issue, we may jeopardize our longstanding relationship with Portugal, which will have consequences for our constituencies of Portuguese-Americans.”

The Massachusetts legislators close their letter by asking President Obama to take action and offer a better alternative plan for the Azores. In their plea, they conclude, “We hope you will take seriously our plea for a better alternative to this plan and that you would work with your cabinet to reach an arrangement that will better assist Portugal with the transition if resources are scaled back at Lajes.”

In 2012, citing budgetary constraints, the US administration had informed the Portuguese government that it would significantly reduce its military presence at Lajes Field. On December 2014, the House of Representatives had requested a “specific evaluation” preventing the US Administration from reducing military personnel at Lajes Field pending the evaluation. However, on January 2015, the former United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, affirmed the US decision to downsize the US presence in the Lajes Field on Terceira, Azores.

Lajes Field is home to about 650 U.S. military personnel and Defense Department civilians and the largest employer of Portuguese civil works on the island. The plan will withdraw about 400 military personnel and 500 family members from the base while many thousands of local Portuguese civil works will lose their jobs, significantly impacting the local economy.

Established in 1942 as a US military outpost, Lajes Field provides support to civil and military aircraft, including fighters from the US and 20 other allied nations. Its geographic position has made the US base on Terceira island strategically important to both the United States and NATO.

The Portuguese-American Legislative Caucus is a bipartisan group of Massachusetts legislators of Portuguese descent dedicated to strengthening the long-standing bilateral ties between the United States and Portugal and by raising the level of awareness regarding the issues facing the Portuguese American community.

paj.carolina matos.editor

Read the full appeal letter here.

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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, the leader of the Socialist Party (PS) in the Azores, was sworn Regional President of the Government of the Azores on October 14, 2012. According to the latest US census over 1.3 million individuals of Portuguese descent live in the United States, the majority with roots in the Azores. It is estimated that over 20,000 US citizens live in Portugal.