Background Note: Cape Verde, December 2001
Republic of Cape Verde
Area: 4,033 sq. km. (1,557 sq. mi.), slightly larger than Rhode Island.
Cities: Capital--Praia (pop. 94,757). Other city--Mindelo (pop. 62,970).
Terrain: Rugged volcanic islands.
Climate: Dry, temperate.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Cape Verdean (s).
Population (2000): 434,812.
Annual growth rate (1990s): 2.4%.
Ethnic groups: Creole (mixed African and Portuguese), African, European.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant.
Languages: Portuguese (official); Crioulo (national).
Education: Literacy (1999)--73.6%.
Health: Infant mortality rate(2000)--30.6/1,000. Life expectancy
Independence: July 5, 1975.
Constitution: 1982; revised 1992, 1995, and 1999.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of
government), Council of Ministers. Legislative--National Assembly.
Judicial--Supreme Court, lower courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 17 administrative districts.
Political parties: African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV);
Movement for Democracy (MPD); Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD); Party
for Democratic Renovation (PRD); Party for Labor and Solidarity (PTS);
Social Democratic Party (PSD).
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Flag: Broad horizontal blue bands at the top and bottom. Three horizontal
bands (top white, middle red, bottom white) the middle third. A circle of 10
yellow five-pointed stars is centered on the hoist end of the red stripe and
extends into the upper and lower blue bands.
GDP (2000): $559.6 million.
GDP per capita (2000): $1,323.
Annual growth rate (2000): 6.8%.
Natural resources: Salt, pozzolana, limestone.
Agriculture: Products--bananas, corn, beans, sugarcane, coffee, fruits,
vegetables, livestock products.
Industry: Types--fish and fish products, clothing, shoes, beverages, salt,
construction, building materials, ship repair, furniture, metal products,
Trade (2000): Exports--$11 million: shoes, fish, garments, bananas.
Imports--$237.2 million: foodstuffs, consumer goods, industrial products,
transport equipment, fuels. Major trading partners--Portugal, Netherlands,
U.S., other EC.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
Economic aid received: U.S. aid (2000)--$3.1 million. Other donors (1999)
-- $115 million.
The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 450
kilometers (about 300 mi.) off the west coast of Africa. The archipelago
includes 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and
leeward (Sotavento) groups. The main islands in the Barlavento group are
Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista;
those of the Sotavento group include Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All
larger islands but Santa Luzia are inhabited.
Three islands--Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio--generally are level and very dry.
Mountains higher than 1,280 meters (4,200 ft.) are found on Santiago, Fogo,
Santo Antão, and São Nicolau.
Sand carried by high winds has created spectacular rock formations on all
islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the
sea on several of the mountainous islands. Natural vegetation is sparse in
the uplands and coast, but interior valleys support denser growth.
Rainfall is irregular and the archipelago suffers periodic droughts and
consequent food shortages. The average precipitation per year in Praia is 24
centimeters (9.5 in.). During the winter, storms blowing from the Sahara
sometimes cloud the sky, but sunny days are the norm year round.
The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the Portuguese discovered
the islands in 1456. African slaves were brought to the islands to work on
Portuguese plantations. As a result, Cape Verdeans are of mixed African and
European origin. The influence of African culture is most pronounced on the
island of Santiago, where half the population resides. Sparse rain and few
natural resources historically have induced Cape Verdeans to emigrate. It is
believed that of the more than 1 million individuals of Cape Verdean
ancestry, less than half 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
The official language is Portuguese, but most Cape Verdeans also speak a
Creole dialect--Crioulo--which is based on archaic Portuguese but influenced
by African and 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.
With the decline in the slave trade, Cape Verde's early 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 a group of Cape Verdeans and
Guinea-Bissauans 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. 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
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 the 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 pluralistic democracy, 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. Legislative elections in December 1995 increased the MpD majority
in the National Assembly. The party won 50 of the National Assembly's 72
seats. A February 1996 presidential election returned President Mascarenhas
Monteiro to office. Legislative elections in January 2001 returned power to
the PAICV. The PAICV now holds 40 of the National Assembly seats, MpD 30,
and PCD and PTS 1 each. In February 2001, the PAICV-supported presidential
candidate Pedro Pires defeated former MpD leader Carlos Veiga by only
The Cape Verde constitution adopted in 1980 and revised in 1992, 1995, and
1999 forms the basis of government. The Prime Minister is head of 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 2001. The Prime Minister is nominated by the
National Assembly and appointed by the President. The President is head of
state and is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term; the most recent
elections were held in February 2001.
The judicial system is comprised of a Supreme Court of Justice--whose
members are appointed by the President, the National Assembly, and the Board
of the Judiciary--and regional courts. Separate courts hear civil,
constitutional and criminal cases. Appeal is to the Supreme Court.
Principal Government Officials
President--Pedro Verona Pires
Prime Minister and Defense Minister--Jose Maria Neves
President of the National Assembly--Aristides Lima
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Manuel Inocencio Sousa
Ambassador to the United States--Jose Brito
Ambassador to the United Nations--Luís Fonseca
Cape Verde maintains an embassy in the United States at 3415 Massachusetts
Avenue, NW., Washington DC 20007 (tel. 202-965-6820) and one consulate at
535 Boylston ST, Boston MA 02116 (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. In 2001, the PAICV recaptured power. Currently, there are four parties
with seats in the National Assembly-- PAICV 40, MPD 30, PCD 1, and PTS 1.
Cape Verde has few natural resources and suffers from poor rainfall and
limited fresh water. Only 4 of the 10 main islands (Santiago, Santo Antão,
Fogo, and Brava) normally support significant agricultural production.
Mineral resources include 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 more than 70% of GDP. Although nearly 70% of
the population lives in rural areas, agriculture and fishing contribute only
about 10% of GDP. Light manufacturing accounts for most of the remainder.
An amount estimated at about 20% of GDP is contributed to the domestic
economy through remittances from expatriate Cape Verdeans.
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. From 1994 to 2000 there
were a total of about U.S.$407 million in foreign investments made or
planned, of which 58% were in tourism, 17% in industry, 4% in
infrastructure, and 21% in fisheries and services.
Fish and shellfish are plentiful, and small quantities are exported. Cape
Verde has cold storage and freezing facilities and 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 smaller port facilities. In addition to the international
airport on Sal, airports have been built on all of the inhabited islands.
All but the airport on Brava enjoyed scheduled air service. The archipelago
has 3,050 kilometers (1,830 mi.) of roads, of which 1,010 kilometers (606
mi.) are paved.
Cape Verde pursues a nonaligned foreign policy and seeks cooperative
relations with all states. Angola, Brazil, China, Cuba, France, Portugal,
Senegal, Russia, and the United States maintain embassies in Praia. Several
other, mostly European countries, maintain honorary consulates.
In addition, Cape Verde maintains multilateral relations with other
lusophone nations and holds membership in many international organizations.
U.S.-CAPE VERDEAN RELATIONS
The cordial relations between the United States and Cape Verde have strong
In the early 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 and
continues today. Both President Mascarenhas Monteiro and Prime Minister
Carlos Veiga visited 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 to the
early 19th century. 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 posted to Cape Verde in 1983.
The United States provided emergency humanitarian aid and economic
assistance to Cape Verde in the period immediately following Cape Verde's
independence, as well as after natural disasters including a hurricane that
struck the island of Brava in 1982 a severe volcanic eruption on Fogo in
1995. The United States normally delivers about 15,000 metric tons of grain
yearly to Cape Verde.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Michael D. Metelits
Deputy Chief of Mission--James Knight
The U.S. Embassy is at Rua Abílio Macedo, 81, Praia; C.P.201, tel. (238) 61
56 16, fax 61 13 55.
See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/ for all Background notes
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