The US House of Representatives has requested a “specific revaluation” on the strategic relevance for the United States of the of Lajes Airfield on Terceira, Azores, under the current $585 billion Defense Authorization Bill (approved December 4) for the fiscal year 2015.
Accordingly, the US Administration is prevented from reducing military personnel at Lajes Airfield until the revaluation is completed. In addition, funds granted under the current authorization bill will not be used to close down services at the Lajes Airfield.
The President of the Government of the Azores, Vasco Cordeiro, told reporters that, although these matters should be taken with caution, he hoped “it will have a positive impact, starting with the study to be conducted by the Department of Defense.”
“I welcome this step, but I am well aware that it will not solve the challenge that still lies ahead of us or that it will halt the impact of the departure of US military families from the base, which is already being felt on the [Terceira] island’s economy,” President Cordeiro said.
President Cordeiro also stressed the particular attention given to this concern by a group of US Representatives with roots in the Azores. Currently, there are three members of Portuguese descent in the US Congress, namely Devin Nunes, Jim Costa and David G. Valadao. Senator Patrick J. Tooney is also of Portuguese descent.
In 2013, the United States Senate had voted a measure with a specific reference to the Lajes Air Field, recognizing the importance the base in the context of the reevaluation process toward the restructuring of the US military presence in Europe.
In 2012, citing budgetary constraints, the US administration had informed the Portuguese government that it would significantly reduce its military presence at Lajes Airfield. The downsizing would have affected more than 400 US military personnel and 500 family members. The decision could significantly impact the local economy. Lajes Airfield is the island’s second largest employer and more than 700 Portuguese civil workers would have lost their jobs.
The Lajes Airfield on Terceira is one of seven main operating bases under US Air Forces in Europe providing refueling and other support to US military, NATO aircraft and crewmembers transiting over the Atlantic. The Lajes Airfield hosts a civilian airport which shares its runway with the Portuguese aviation. The downsizing could have saved the Pentagon an estimated $35 million annually.
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.