Members of the Portuguese-American Caucus, of the US House of Representatives,have appealed to US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to maintain operations at the US Lajes Air Base on Terceira island, Azores.
In a letter dated October 19, 2016, the Portuguese-American Caucus emphasizes the fact that the US Lajes Air Base is not only a strategic outpost of importance to U.S. military and security concerns but that it has been an enduring link with Portugal, one of our nation’s oldest allies.
The letter goes on to say that the US has invested billions of dollars in the development of Lajes Field making it an ideal location for “national security missions including air-to-air training, naval forces or intelligence operations”.
In addition to the economic hardship imposed upon the Azoreans on the island due to the base’s reduction, there is major concern regarding interest expressed by the Chinese during more than one fact-finding visit to Lajes towards expanding their position and influence in the Atlantic.
The letter requests a meeting with Secretary Carter and the members of the caucus at some time in November when they return for the remainder of the congressional session. It was signed by Congressmen Jim Costa (D, CA-16), David N. Cicilline (D, RI-1), David G. Valadao (D, CA-21), Lee M. Zeldin (R, NY-1), William R. Keating (D, MA-9), James P. McGovern (D, MA-2) and Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D, MA-4). Read full text here
Chinese interest in the Azores
According to a September 20, 2016 letter sent by Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, several high-ranking Chinese officials have visited the Azores in recent years, culminating in a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“The Chinese delegation is reportedly in negotiations to expand China’s investments and its overall presence on the islands, including in the shipping port on Terceira, and they have also expressed interest in using the runway at Lajes Field,” the letter said. Read full text here
For the past 70 years, Lajes Air Base has been one of seven main operating military bases under US Air Forces in Europe providing refueling and other support to US military, NATO aircraft and crew members transiting over the Atlantic.
The Portuguese-American Caucus
The Portuguese-American Caucus was established in 1995 by Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy (RI-D) and co-chaired with Congressman Richard Pombo (CA-R), is a bipartisan group of legislators dedicated to strengthening the long-standing bilateral ties between the United States and Portugal and to the issues facing the Portuguese American community.
Members include, Hon. Devin Nunes (R, CA-22); Hon. Jim Costa (D, CA-16), Co-chair; Hon. David N. Cicilline (D, RI-1), Co-chair; Hon. David G. Valadao (D, CA-21), Co-chair; Hon. Lee M. Zeldin (R, NY-1), Co-chair; Hon. William R. Keating (D, MA-9); Hon. James P. McGovern (D, MA-2); Hon. Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D, MA-4); Hon. Jim Langevin (D, RI-2).
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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. 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.