-- Mestico, or mixed-blood, descendants of African slaves brought to the islands during the early years of settlement from Benin, Gabon, Congo, and Angola (these people also are known as filhos da terra or "sons of the land");
-- Angolares, reputedly descendants of Angolan slaves who survived a 1540 shipwreck and now earn their livelihood fishing;
-- Forros, descendants of freed slaves when slavery was abolished;
-- Servicais, contract laborers from Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde, living temporarily on the islands;
-- Tongas, children of servicais born on the islands; and
-- Europeans, primarily Portuguese.
In the 1970s, there were two significant population movements--the exodus of most of the 4,000 Portuguese residents and the influx of several hundred Sao Tomean refugees from Angola.
The islanders have been absorbed largely into a common Luso-African culture. Almost all belong to the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, or Seventh-day Adventist Churches, which in turn retain close ties with churches in Portugal.
Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years, and by the mid-1600s, Sao Tome was little more than a port of call for bunkering ships. In the early 1800s, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (rocas), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, Sao Tome had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, still the country's most important crop.
The rocas system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. In the early 1900s, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions. Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepa Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.
By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African continent were demanding independence, a small group of Sao Tomeans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabon. Picking up momentum in the 1960s, events moved quickly after the overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974. The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies; in November 1974, their representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transitional government, Sao Tome and Principe achieved independence on July 12, 1975, choosing as its first president the MLSTP Secretary General Manuel Pinto da Costa.
In 1990, Sao Tome became one of the first African countries to embrace democratic reform and changes to the constitution--the legalization of opposition political parties--led to elections in 1991 that were nonviolent, free, and transparent. Miguel Trovoada, a former prime minister who had been in exile since 1986, returned as an independent candidate and was elected president and was re-elected in Sao Tome's second multiparty presidential election in 1996. The Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD) toppled the MLSTP to take a majority of seats in the National Assembly, with the MLSTP becoming an important and vocal minority party. Municipal elections followed in late 1992, in which the MLSTP came back to win a majority of seats on five of seven regional councils. In early legislative elections in October 1994, the MLSTP won a plurality of seats in the Assembly and retained a plurality in the 1996 elections. The Government of Sao Tome fully functions under a multiparty system.
The president of the republic is elected to a 5-year term by direct universal suffrage and a secret ballot. Candidates are chosen at their party's national conference (or individuals may run independently). A presidential candidate must obtain an outright majority of the popular vote in either a first or second tour of voting in order to be elected president. The prime minister is named by the president but must be ratified by the majority party and thus normally comes from a list of its choosing. The prime minister, in turn, names the 14 members of the cabinet. The National Assembly is made up of 55 members, all of whom must stand for reelection every five years.
Justice is administered at the highest level by the Supreme Tribunal. Formerly responsible to the National Assembly, the judiciary is now independent under the new constitution.
Administratively, the country is divided into seven municipal districts, six on Sao Tome and one comprising Principe. Governing councils in each district maintain a limited number of autonomous decision-making powers, and are reelected every five years.
Justice, Labor and Public Administration--Amaro Pereira De Couto
Foreign Affairs and Sao Tomean Communities Overseas--Homero Jeronimo Salvaterra
Defense and Internal Order--Captain Joao Quaresma Viegas Bexigas
Planning and Finances--Acacio Elba Bonfim
Education, Culture and Sports--Albertino Homem dos Santos Sequeira Braganca
Equipment and the Environment--Arlindo Afonso de Carvalho
Health--Dr. Eduardo do Carmo Ferreira de Matos
Agriculture and Fisheries--Hermenilgido de Assuncao Sousa e Santos
Commerce, Industry and Tourism--Cosme Afonso da Trindade Rita
The Sao Tome and Principe Mission to the United States, which also is the Sao Tomean Embassy to the United Nations, is located at 801 Second Avenue, Suite 1604, New York, New York 10017 (tel. 212-697-4211).
Domestic food-crop production is inadequate to meet local consumption, so the country imports some of its food. Efforts have been made by the government in recent years to expand food production, and several projects have been undertaken, largely financed by foreign donors.
Other than agriculture, the main economic activities are fishing and a small industrial sector engaged in processing local agricultural products and producing a few basic consumer goods. The scenic islands have potential for tourism, and the government is attempting to improve its rudimentary tourist industry infrastructure. The government sector accounts for about 20% of both employment and gross domestic product (GDP).
Since independence, the country has had a centrally directed economy with most means of production owned and controlled by the state. The new constitution guarantees a "mixed economy," with privately owned cooperatives combined with publicly owned property and means of production.
In recent years, the economy of Sao Tome has encountered major difficulties: economic growth has stagnated, and cocoa exports have dropped in both value and volume, leaving large balance-of-payments deficits. The situation stems from a combination of external and internal factors, including the significantly lower world price for cocoa and production inefficiencies on the plantations.
In response to its economic downturn, the government announced its intention to carry out far-reaching economic reforms. In 1987, the government implemented an International Monetary Fund structural adjustment program. It has invited greater private participation in management of the parastatals, as well as in the agricultural, commercial, banking, and tourism sectors, and is increasing efforts to attract foreign investment to Sao Tome and Principe. The focus of economic reform since 1991 has been widespread privatization, especially of the state-run agricultural and industrial sectors. Agricultural privatization has met with mixed success, but capital is not readily available and this has led to difficulties in finding private investors to take over many of the still-inefficient means of production in both sectors. In 1993, the government announced plans to designate a free trade zone to attract offshore investors in the hopes of further developing the country's shipping and manufacturing sectors.
The Sao Tomean Government has traditionally obtained foreign assistance from various donors. The UN Development Program, the World Bank, the European Union, and the African Development Bank finance projects on the islands.
Portugal remains one of Sao Tome's major trading partners, particularly as a source of imports. Food, manufactured articles, machinery, and transportation equipment are imported primarily from the EU.
While the Sao Tomean Government has maintained a foreign policy based on nonalignment and cooperation with any country willing to assist in its economic development, it has recently begun to emphasize ties to the U.S. and Western Europe.
U.S. relations with Sao Tome are excellent. The United States Peace Corps maintains 20 Volunteers on the islands, working primarily in the health and rural appropriate technology sectors. Voice of America and the Government of Sao Tome signed a long term agreement in 1992 for the establishment of a relay transmitter station in Sao Tome; VOA currently broadcasts to most of central Africa from this facility, and is looking to expand the operation. The U.S. Government also maintains a number of smaller assistance programs in Sao Tome, administered through non-governmental organizations or the Embassy in Libreville.
The U.S. Embassy in Gabon is located on the Boulevard de la Mer, B.P. 4000, Libreville, Gabon (Tel: 241-743-492; Fax: 241-745-507).
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