São Tomé e Principe - US Facilities
The Pentagon at one time considered building its own deep-sea naval facility in Sao Tome , given the strategic value of the Gulf of Guinea, which was by 2013 a transit point for around 30 percent of U.S. petroleum imports. The plan did not move forward.
In 2002, Sao Tome President Fradique de Menezes announced that the United States had agreed on establishing of a US Navy base, but the US never confirmed this plan. The US acknowledged visits to Sao Tome for planning talks on security in the Gulf of Guinea. Some US and oil industry officials and Washington energy think-tanks have urged the Bush administration to establish a US naval base on Sao Tome. US relations with Sao Tome are excellent.
In 1992 the Voice of America (VOA) and the Government of Sao Tome signed a long-term agreement for the establishment of a relay transmitter station in Sao Tome. VOA currently broadcasts to much of Africa from this facility. The Station broadcasts Voice Of America programs to all of Africa in six different languages. The Station also broadcasts programs for Sao Tome's Radio Nacional on the island. The Station has a staff of three American officers plus local staff.
In February 2004 the US agreed to finance an $800,000 viability study for expanding the international the airport of Sao Tome and Principe. The deepwater port construction and airport expansion projects are designed to make Sao Tome & Principe more accessible for trade and travel.
The expansion and modernization of the current airport facilities at Sao Tome's airport are necessary for both present and future use. Sao Tome can expect an influx of services requiring use of the airport in the near future as the Joint Development Zone oilfield exploration and development begins, as well as from increased tourism. The Government of Sao Tome & Principe has recognized that improvements are needed for the airport, but the Government lacks a plan and feasibility studies for airport development that address current and future needs of airport users. Present conditions at the airport are adequate by international standards but will not accommodate future growth. The landing strip, terminal, and support facilities are amongst improvement areas that need to be made.
Sao Tome and Principe was interesting to the United States government not only for their oil potential, but also for strategic positioning in the Gulf of Guinea. This led by 2004 to growing cooperation between Sao Tome's government and the U.S military, as well as discussions over a possible presence of US forces.
In a Novemver 2004 interview with VOA, President Fradique de Menezes said he approached the U.S. government three years ago with the idea of developing economic and security ties, and he says Washington was immediately receptive. "We would like to have this very close relationship with Americans," he said. "Of course, we talk about military [protection], and why because myself at a certain moment, due to the expectations created around this oil business and due to our weakness, this is a very small islands state, like you say tiny island state, it's better to have good friends who really can care about us, and this is the response I had very positively from Washington."
Since then, Sao Tome has received many American visitors, including senators and the deputy commander of the U.S European Command, General Charles Wald, who said the islands could become another Diego Garcia. That's an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that serves as a United States air-naval base. Other US officials, especially at the Department of Defense, downplayed General Wald's comment, saying the war in Iraq is the priority, and that there would be no budget for any such project right now.
US officials said Sao Tome could become a so-called lillypad, a forward operating base with several hundred troops, not only to safeguard American interests in the islands' possible oil fields, but across West Africa. President de Menezes was himself receptive to the idea. "This could be a place and can be a place that you can choose to be a suitable place to do something to be a central point, a place [from] where you can go to the continent or to assure yourself to protect your investments," he explained. "Because why? It's the position of the island in the Gulf of Guinea; this is a very suitable place to have any support, any technical support to any kind of operation in defense of the economic interests in the Gulf of Guinea."
Estimates indicated the Gulf of Guinea could soon account for up to a quarter of US oil imports. US officials also say because Sao Tome and Principe is heavily Catholic there would be no anti-American sentiment rooted in Islamic militancy here. Most residents on the islands interviewed by VOA said they would welcome a strong partnership with a country other than Portugal, the former colonial power.
Former Prime Minister Guilherme Posser said there should be more openness about projects in military cooperation. He says it shouldn't be just Sao Tome's president and a few American officials who are aware of what exactly is being planned. "The problem is we try to make this thing as a taboo, and I think that this thing must be an object of a national debate," he said. "This is not only the problem of only one organ of sovereignty. This must be a question that must be discussed, must be debated by all the nation." Posser suggests that if Americans do decide to establish some sort of base, the idea should be submitted to a national referendum.
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