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U. S. Department of State

Background Notes: Cape Verde, May 1998

Released by the Office of Francophone West African Affairs, Bureau of African Affairs.

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Official Name:
Republic of Cape Verde

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 4,033 sq. km. (1,557 sq. mi.), slightly larger than Rhode Island.
Cities: Capital--Praia (pop. 78,675). Other city--Mindelo (pop. 53,300).
Terrain: Rugged volcanic islands.
Climate: Dry, temperate.

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Cape Verdean (s).
Population (1995): 386,185.
Annual growth rate (1994-2000): 2.5%.
Ethnic groups: Creole (mixed African and Portuguese), African, European.
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant.
Languages: Portuguese (official); Crioulo (national).
Education: Literacy (1994)--69.9%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1994)--48/1,000. Life expectancy (1994)--65.3 yrs.

Government

Type: Republic.
Independence: July 5, 1975.
Constitution: 1982; revised 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers. Legislative--National Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court, lower courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 16 administrative districts.
Political parties: Movement for Democracy (MpD); African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV); Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD).
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.

Economy

GDP (1997): $450 million.
GDP per capita (1997): $1,046.
Annual growth rate (1997): 4.5%.
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 (1996): Exports--$12.8 million: shoes, lobster, fish, garments, bananas, hides. Imports--$237 million: foodstuffs, consumer goods, industrial products, transport equipment, fuels. Major trading partners--Portugal, Netherlands, other EC, U.S.
Fiscal year: Calendar year.
Economic aid received: U.S. aid (1997)--$1.9 million.

GEOGRAPHY

The Cape Verde Islands are located in the mid-Atlantic Ocean some 620 kilometers (385 mi.) off the west coast of Africa. The archipelago consists of 10 islands and 5 islets, divided into the windward (Barlavento) and leeward (Sotavento) groups. The six islands in the Barlavento group are Santo Antão, São Vicente, Santa Luzia, São Nicolau, Sal, and Boa Vista. The islands in the Sotavento group are Maio, Santiago, Fogo, and Brava. All but Santa Luzia are inhabited.

Three islands--Sal, Boa Vista, and Maio--generally are level and lack natural water supplies. 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 caused erosion on all islands, especially the windward ones. Sheer, jagged cliffs rise from the sea on several of the mountainous islands. The lack of natural vegetation in the uplands and coast also contributes to soil erosion. Only the interior valleys support natural vegetation.

Rainfall is irregular, historically causing periodic droughts and famines. The average precipitation per year in Praia is 24 centimeters (9.5 in.). During the winter, storms blowing from the Sahara sometimes form dense dust clouds that obscure the sun; however, sunny days are the norm year round.

PEOPLE

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.

HISTORY

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.

GOVERNMENT

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.

Principal Government Officials

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).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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.

ECONOMY

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.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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.

U.S.-CAPE VERDEAN RELATIONS

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.

Principal U.S. Officials

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.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648)

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information:

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published annually by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

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