Portugal “profoundly disappointed” over American “slap in the face” over Lajes airbase

Portugal “profoundly disappointed” over American “slap in the face” over Lajes airbase

Terceira || News that the Americans are pulling two-thirds of their military personnel out of Lajes airbase on the Azorean island of Teixeira has left Portugal seething.

Describing the unilateral decision as a “monumental slap in the face”, president of the Azorean government Vasco Cordeiro has called for an urgent meeting with President Cavaco Silva, as well as an audience with Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

Talking to journalists in Ponta Delgada, Cordeiro referred to the warning given only days before by foreign affairs minister Rui Machete, who suggested “bilateral relations between the US and Portugal could become strained” if there wasn’t what he called “a good result” in the “long and complex process” of negotiating America’s continued presence.

The pull-out of 485 US military and civilian personnel translates into the loss over the course of this year of 500 jobs held by Portuguese at the airbase.

As the island’s authorities have been quick to stress, this will plunge Terceira into a whole new set of economic problems, as it is not simply that 700 Portuguese are directly employed at Lajes – many others more rely on the base for business.

According to the Portuguese-American Journal last year reduction of the US force at Lajes could push unemployment on Terceira up 40%, and signal a “1.5% reduction in GDP for the Azores as a whole”.

Backing Cordeiro’s comments, foreign affairs minister Rui Machete has expressed Portugal’s “profound displeasure” over the decision which has pulled the rug on months of delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations.

In a statement released by his ministry, he said that the government is now undergoing a “detailed analysis” of the situation and its possible implications.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel presented the mass-pullout (which includes an exodus from three UK airforce bases) as a “light withdrawal” of America’s military presence in Europe.

The fact that it came the day after Europe was shaken by the terror attack in Paris stands as further testimony to bad timing.

[email protected]