The Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) is hosting, this week in Lisbon, private talks between Portuguese political representatives and a delegation of US policy makers, of Portuguese descent, to address bilateral relations between Portugal and Washington.
The talks, intended to follow up on contacts already established in the past, are taking place at a time of tense bilateral relations, following the US Defense Department announcing its decision to downsize the Lajes Field in Terceira island, Azores.
Reacting to the announcement, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Portuguese American Caucus, have expressed concern that the Defense Department’s plan to downsize the Lajes Field could harm US relations with Portugal.
“It is not contentious to say that bilateral relations between Portugal and the United States are going through a phase of deep change and that this is an attempt to help bring about both sides,” the president of FLAD, Vasco Rato, told the Lisbon press.
On Thursday and Friday, talks will be attended by the Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas, the Finance Minister, Maria Luís Albuquerque, and the Mayor of Lisbon, António Costa, the socialist opposition leader.
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.
Lajes Field is the second largest employer on Terceira island. The decision to downsize the US military base, which will save the Pentagon an estimated $35 million annually, will significantly impact the local economy. Early in January, the United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, confirmed the Pentagon’s decision to downsize the US presence in the Lajes Field.
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.