Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 1
Status: Free
Population: 500,000
GNI/Capita: $1,290
Life Expectancy: 69
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic, Protestant
Ethnic Groups: Creole [mulatto] (71 percent), African (28 percent), European (1 percent)
Capital: Praia

Ratings Change
Cape Verde's civil liberties rating improved from 2 to 1 due to modest improvements in women's rights.


Cape Verde courts in 2003 sentenced a number of people for election fraud. Meanwhile, the government undertook unpopular measures as part of its move toward a market economy.

After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde was governed for 16 years under Marxist, one-party rule by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, which is now the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). The Movement for Democracy (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 1995, the MPD was returned to power with 59 percent of the vote. Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro's mandate ended in 2001 after he had served two terms as president.

Cape Verde had a spectacularly close presidential election in 2001. In the second round of voting, opposition candidate Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires defeated ruling party contender Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga by only 12 votes in an election that overturned a decade of rule by the MPD; both presidential candidates had served as prime ministers. It was a test for Cape Verde's democracy that despite the closeness of the election, trust remained in the country's institutions and the results were accepted.

The PAICV also defeated the MPD in the 2001 legislative polls. The change in voting appeared to be a reflection of the popular attitude that the MPD had grown complacent. The PAICV won 40 seats compared with 30 for the MPD and 2 for the Democratic Alliance for Change. Disagreements within the MPD in 2000 resulted in a split and the formation of a new party, the Democratic Renewal Party, which won no assembly seats.

In 2003, Cape Verde courts sentenced a number of people for election fraud linked with the 2001 presidential polls that brought Pires to power. The election had been declared free and fair, and those found guilty of "election crimes" had apparently acted on a local level. Delegates of both candidates were found guilty of violations such as stuffing ballot boxes and were given light prison sentences. The ruling party was expected to face a tough challenge from the MPD in local elections scheduled for 2004.

Prices for water, electricity, and transportation soared after officials privatized state utilities in 2003. 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. Foreign aid and remittances by Cape Verdean expatriates provide a large portion of national income. Faced with a growing hunger problem, Cape Verde in 2002 made its first request for emergency food aid in more than 20 years.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Since the country's 1991 transition to multiparty democracy, Cape Verdeans have changed their government three times by democratic means. The president and members of the National People's Assembly are elected through universal suffrage in free and fair elections. The 2001 presidential election had been declared free and fair, and those who were later found guilty of "election crimes" had apparently acted on a local level. Delegates of both candidates were found guilty of violations such as stuffing ballot boxes and were given light prison sentences.

Freedom of expression and of the press is guaranteed and generally respected in practice. No authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other publications. Broadcasts are largely state-controlled, but there is a growing independent press. There are six independent radio broadcasters and one state-run radio broadcaster, in addition to one state-run television station and two foreign-owned stations. Criticism of the government by state-run media is limited by self-censorship resulting from citizens' fear of demotion or dismissal. There is liberal access to the Internet.

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, and followers of the Catholic faith enjoy privileged status. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is guaranteed and respected. Human rights groups, including the National Commission on the Rights of Man and the Ze Moniz Association, operate freely. The constitution also protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. Collective bargaining is permitted, but it occurs rarely.

The judiciary is independent, although cases are frequently delayed. Reforms to strengthen an overburdened judiciary were implemented in 1998. Judges must bring charges within 24 hours of arrest. Prison conditions are poor and are characterized by overcrowding.

Ethnic divisions are not a problem.

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 the means to seek redress, especially in rural areas. At the encouragement of the government and civil society, more women are reporting criminal offenses such as spousal abuse or rape. In 2003, reporting of such crimes to police continued to increase, and violence against women was the subject of extensive public service media coverage in both government- and opposition-controlled media. Although women do not receive equal pay for equal work, they have made modest gains in various professions, especially in the private sector.

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