Background Notes: Cape Verde

Contributed By RealAdventures

The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the Portuguese discovered it in 1456. African slaves were brought to the islands to work on Portuguese plantations. As a result, Cape Verdeans have mixed African and European origins. Vestiges of African culture are most pronounced on the island of Santiago, where 50% of the people live. Survival in a country with few natural resources historically has induced Cape Verdeans to emigrate. In fact, of the more than 1 million people of Cape Verdean ancestry in the world, only a little more than one-third actually live on the islands. Some 500,000 people of Cape Verdean ancestry live in the United States, mainly in New England. Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, France, and Senegal also have large communities.

Although the official language is Portuguese, most Cape Verdeans speak a Creole dialect--Crioulo--which consists of archaic Portuguese modified through contact with African and other European languages. Cape Verde has a rich tradition of Crioulo literature and music.

In 1462, Portuguese settlers arrived at Santiago and founded Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha)--the first permanent European settlement city in the tropics. In the 16th century, the archipelago prospered from the transatlantic slave trade. Pirates occasionally attacked the Portuguese settlements. Sir Francis Drake sacked Ribeira Grande in 1585. After a French attack in 1712, the city declined in importance relative to Praia, which became the capital in 1770.

The archipelago has experienced recurrent drought and famine since the end of the 18th century, and, with the decline in the slave trade, its fragile prosperity slowly vanished. However, the islands' position astride mid-Atlantic shipping lanes made Cape Verde an ideal location for resupplying ships. Because of its excellent harbor, Mindelo (on the island of São Vicente) became an important commercial center during the 19th century.

Portugal changed Cape Verde's status from a colony to an overseas province in 1951 in an attempt to blunt growing nationalism. Nevertheless, in 1956, Amilcar Cabral, a Cape Verdean, and Rafael Barbosa organized (in Guinea-Bissau) the clandestine African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which demanded improvement in economic, social, and political conditions in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea and formed the basis of the two nations' independence movement. Moving its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea in 1960, the PAIGC began an armed rebellion against Portugal in 1961. Acts of sabotage eventually grew into a war in Portuguese Guinea that pitted 10,000 Soviet bloc-supported PAIGC soldiers against 35,000 Portuguese and African troops.

By 1972, the PAIGC controlled much of Portuguese Guinea despite the presence of the Portuguese troops. For logistical reasons, the organization did not attempt to disrupt Portuguese control in Cape Verde. Following the April 1974 revolution in Portugal, however, the PAIGC became an active political movement in Cape Verde.

In December 1974, the PAIGC and Portugal signed an agreement providing for a transitional government composed of Portuguese and Cape Verdeans. On June 30, 1975, Cape Verdeans elected a National Assembly, which received the instruments of independence from Portugal on July 5, 1975.

Immediately following a November 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese Guinea declared independence in 1973 and was granted de jure independence in 1974), relations between the two countries became strained. Cape Verde abandoned its hope for unity with Guinea-Bissau and formed the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). Problems have since been resolved, and relations between the countries are good. The PAICV and its predecessor established a one-party system and ruled Cape Verde from independence until 1990.

Responding to growing pressure for a political opening, the PAICV called an emergency congress in February 1990 to discuss proposed constitutional changes to end one-party rule. Opposition groups came together to form the Movement for Democracy (MpD) in Praia in April 1990. Together, they campaigned for the right to contest the presidential election scheduled for December 1990. The one-party state was abolished September 28, 1990, and the first multi-party elections were held in January 1991. The MpD won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, and the MpD presidential candidate Mascarenhas Monteiro defeated the PAICV's candidate by 73.5% of the votes cast to 26.5%. Legislative elections in December 1995 increased the MpD majority in the National Assembly. The party now holds 50 of the National Assembly's 72 seats. A February 1996 presidential election returned President Mascarenhas Monteiro to office. The December 1995 and February 1996 elections were judged free and fair by domestic and international observers.

The constitution first approved in 1980 and substantially revised in 1992 forms the basis of government organization. It declares that the government is the "organ that defines, leads, and executes the general internal and external policy of the country" and is responsible to the National Assembly. The Prime Minister is the head of the government and as such proposes other ministers and secretaries of state. Members of the National Assembly are elected by popular vote for 5-year terms; the most recent elections were held in 1995. The Prime Minister is nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the President. The President is the head of state and is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term; the most recent elections were held in February 1996.

The judicial system is comprised of a Supreme Court of Justice--whose members are appointed by the President, the National Assembly, and the Superior Board of the Magistrature--and regional courts. Separate courts hear civil and criminal cases. Appeal to the Supreme Court is possible.

President--António Mascarenhas Monteiro
Prime Minister--Carlos Alberto Wahnon Veiga
President of the National Assembly--António Espirito Santo Fonseca
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Amílcar Spencer Lopes
Minister of National Defense--Ulpio Fernandes

Ambassador to the United States--Vacant
Ambassador to the United Nations--José Luís Monteiro

Cape Verde maintains an embassy in the United States at 3415 Massachusetts Avenue, NW., Washington, D.C. 20007 (tel. 202-965-6820) and a consulate in Boston
(tel. 617-353-0014).

Cape Verde enjoys a stable democratic system. The Movement for Democracy (MpD) captured a governing majority in the National Assembly in the country's first multi-party general elections in 1991. The MpD was returned to power with a larger majority in the general elections held in December 1995. Currently, there are three parties with seats in the National Assembly--MpD 50, PAICV 21, and PCD 1.

Cape Verde has few natural resources and suffers from inadequate rainfall and freshwater supplies. During periods of normal rainfall, only 4 of 10 islands (Santiago, Santo Antão, Fogo, and Brava) support significant agricultural production. Mineral resources are salt, pozzolana (a volcanic rock used in cement production), and limestone.

The economy of Cape Verde is service-oriented, with commerce, transport, and public services accounting for almost 70% of GDP.

Although nearly 70% of the population lives in rural areas, the share of agriculture in GDP in 1995 was only 8.9%, of which fishing accounts for only 1.5%. About 90% of food must be imported.

Since 1991, the government has pursued market-oriented economic policies, including an open welcome to foreign investors and a far-reaching privatization program. It established as top development priorities the promotion of market economy and of the private sector; the development of tourism, light manufacturing industries, and fisheries; and the development of transport, communications, and energy facilities. In 1994-95 Cape Verde received a total of about U.S.$50 million in foreign investments, of which 50% was in industry, 19% in tourism, and 31% in fisheries and services.

Fish and shellfish are plentiful, and small quantities are exported. Cape Verde has cold storage and freezing facilities as well as fish processing plants in Mindelo, Praia, and on Sal.

Cape Verde's strategic location at the crossroads of mid-Atlantic air and sea lanes has been enhanced by significant improvements at Mindelo's harbor (Porto Grande) and at Sal's international airport. Ship repair facilities at Mindelo were opened in 1983, and the harbors at Mindelo and Praia were recently renovated. The major ports are Mindelo and Praia, but all other islands have small port facilities, some of which are to be expanded in the near future. In addition to the international airport on Sal, airports are located on all of the inhabited islands. The archipelago has 3,050 kilometers (1,830 mi.) of roads, of which 1,010 kilometers (606 mi.) are paved. The airport of Praia is currently undergoing expansion.

Cape Verde follows a policy of nonalignment and seeks cooperative relations with all friendly states. Angola, Brazil, the People's Republic of China, Cuba, France, Germany, Portugal, Senegal, Russia, and the United States maintain embassies in Praia.

Cape Verde is actively interested in foreign affairs, especially in Africa. It has bilateral relations with other lusophone nations and holds membership in a number of international organizations. It also participates in most international conferences on economic and political issues.

The cordial relations between the United States and Cape Verde have strong historical roots.
As early as the 18th century, U.S. whaling ships recruited crews from Brava and Fogo to hunt whales that were abundant in the waters surrounding Cape Verde. The tradition of emigration
to the United States began at that time, continuing unabated until today. Both President Mascarenhas Monteiro and Prime Minister Carlos Veiga have visited the Cape Verdean communities in New England during official trips to the United States in 1995 and 1997, respectively.

Official ties between the United States and Cape Verde also date back to the early 19th
century, when the first American consulate was established in Cape Verde in 1816. U.S. consular representation continued throughout the 19th century. The United States recognized Cape Verde on its independence day and supported its admission to the United Nations. Cape Verde assigned one of its first ambassadors to the United States, and a resident U.S. ambassador was assigned to Cape Verde in 1983.

The United States promptly provided humanitarian aid and economic assistance to Cape Verde in the period immediately following Cape Verde's independence, as well as when a hurricane struck the island of Brava in 1982 and when Fogo's volcano erupted in 1995. The United States also ships 15,000 metric tons of corn or its equivalent in other grains yearly to Cape Verde.

The United States desires to expand and strengthen its present friendly relations with Cape Verde and wishes to encourage and participate in the country's economic and social development.

Ambassador--Lawrence N. Benedict
Deputy Chief of Mission--Peter J. Swavely
Consul--Peter J. Swavely
Administrative Officer--Lisa Gamble Barker

The U.S. embassy is located at Rua Abílio Macedo, 81, Praia; C.P.201, tel. (238) 61 56 16, fax 61 13 55

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