1999 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating: 1.5
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 1


Cape Verde was preparing for local elections in February 2000 and legislative and presidential elections later in the year. The ruling Movement for Democracy (MPD) had some internal squabbles in 1999 when a handful of members challenged Prime Minister Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga's favored choice to replace him as chairman of the party when he steps down. The challenge resulted in Veiga's call for a vote of confidence among members of the MPD's central committee, which he won with a vote of 80 percent, thus demonstrating his strength. The main challenger to Veiga's choice of party chairman is no longer a member of the central committee. The prime minister reportedly plans to step down, and analysts say he would be a favorite to win should he decide to run in upcoming presidential elections.

The West African archipelago appears to have made a firm transition to multiparty democracy, but extreme poverty has so far allowed no party to offer much material incentive for supporting constitutional rule. The government's austerity program is unpopular, but has drawn increased donor assistance. Very low voter turnout marked President Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro's 1996 reelection to a second five-year term. His free market policies are also supported by the prime minister and the MPD, which holds 50 of 72 seats in parliament.

After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde was governed under Marxist, one-party rule by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde for 16 years. The MPD won a landslide 1991 victory in the first democratic elections after Cape Verde became the first former Portuguese colony in Africa to abandon Marxist political and economic systems. In December 1995, the MPD was returned to power with 59 percent of the vote.

The country's stagnant economy has been bolstered somewhat by increased exports and tourism, but infrastructure improvements are still needed to assist in private sector development. Cape Verde is one of Africa's smallest and poorest lands. It has few exploitable natural resources and relies heavily on imported food. Foreign aid and remittances by Cape Verdean expatriates provide a large portion of national income. The government is pursuing privatization and seeking international investment from business and from the country's large diaspora. Cape Verde has enthusiastically joined Portugal's efforts to create a Lusophone commonwealth.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The president and members of the national people's assembly, including six representatives chosen by citizens living abroad, are elected through universal suffrage in free and fair elections. Since the country's 1991 transition to multiparty democracy, Cape Verdeans have changed their government twice by democratic means. The 1992 constitution circumscribed the powers of the presidency, which was left with little authority beyond the ability to delay ratification of legislation, propose amendments, and dissolve parliament after a vote of no-confidence. Referenda are permitted in some circumstances, but they may not challenge civil liberties or the rights of opposition parties.

Human rights groups, including the National Commission of the Rights of Man and the Organization of Cape Verdean Women, operate freely. There are no reported political prisoners.

Reforms to strengthen an overburdened judiciary were implemented in 1998. Composed of a supreme court and regional courts that generally adjudicate criminal and civil cases fairly, the judiciary is independent, although cases are frequently delayed. Free legal counsel is provided to indigents, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and trials are public. Judges must bring charges within 24 hours of arrests. The police, which were controlled by the military until 1994, are now answerable to civilian authority.

The freedom of peaceful assembly and association is guaranteed and respected. The constitution requires the separation of church and state, and religious rights are respected in practice. The vast majority of Cape Verdeans belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

Freedom of expression and of the press is guaranteed and generally respected in practice. No authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other publications. Nevertheless, the press and the radio and television broadcasts are largely state-controlled. Criticism of the government is limited by self-censorship resulting from citizens' fear of demotion or dismissal.

Discrimination against women persists despite legal prohibitions against gender discrimination, as well as provisions for social and economic equality. Many women do not know their rights or do not possess means to seek redress, especially in rural areas. Women receive less pay for equal work and are excluded from traditionally male professions. They are also subject to allegedly common, but seldom reported, domestic violence. Serious concerns about child abuse and the prevalence of child labor persist. Campaigns to promote women's civil and human rights and awareness of child abuse have been mounted by local nongovernmental organizations with international assistance.

The constitution protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. Two confederations, the Council of Free Labor Unions and the National Union of Cape Verde, include 25 unions with approximately 27,000 members.

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