CBS NEWS – GRAHAM KATES
João Meneses stares out the front passenger-side window as we speed past countless rows of nearly identical beige houses with orange, clay tile roofs, a picturesque suburban-style development overlooking the eastern coast of this small island. “They had everything here, and now it’s completely abandoned. You see all the tall grass?” Meneses says. “Everything’s empty, there’s not a single person living here.”
We’re looking at hundreds of American-owned, and nearly new, military family homes abandoned by the Department of Defense. It’s a void that has pushed this strategically significant island to the brink, leaving an economic and political vacuum that may lead to a previously unthinkable circumstance: the government of China with a perch in the North Atlantic, between the United States and Europe. Meneses works for the tourism office in this small town tucked between farm-checkered green hills, the ocean and a large Portuguese Air Force base called Lajes Field, where the U.S. has long had an installation.
The tour he’s leading my wife and me on is unusual for everyone involved. Meneses is used to bringing tourists to scenic overlooks showcasing this historic village’s narrow winding streets, its classic European town square, and of course the beach. But on this windy afternoon in mid-June, we’re looking over a nearly empty air base and driving on the wide roads that mark American developments around the world.