Capital: Praia
Population: 500,000

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Status: Free


Cape Verde continued its cooperation with the European Union (EU) in 2008, agreeing to several steps aimed at curtailing illegal migration in return for improved guest-worker access to certain EU member states. Also during the year, the country formally joined the World Trade Organization.

After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde was governed for 16 years as a Marxist, one-party state under the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, later renamed the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). In 1991, the country became the first former Portuguese colony in Africa to abandon Marxist political and economic systems, and the Movement for Democracy (MPD) won a landslide victory in the first democratic elections that year. In 1995, the MPD was returned to power with 59 percent of the vote. President Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro's mandate ended in 2001, after he had served two terms.

Cape Verde had a spectacularly close presidential election in 2001. In the second round of voting, PAICV candidate Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires defeated ruling party contender Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga by 13 votes, overturning a decade of MPD rule. Despite the closeness of the election, the results were widely accepted.

In legislative elections in January 2006, the PAICV won a majority of the 72 seats in the National Assembly, taking 41 compared with the MPD's 29; the Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union, a smaller opposition party, won the remaining two seats. Pires won a new five-year mandate in the presidential election that followed in February, taking 51.2 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Veiga, claimed that the results were fraudulent, but they were endorsed by international election monitors.

In June 2007, Cape Verde's parliament unanimously passed new electoral code provisions aimed at strengthening the National Electoral Commission's transparency and independence. Voter registration for municipal elections held in May 2008 marked the debut of a biometric electoral registry, the first such biometric database in the country. The opposition MPD won a marginal victory in the elections, collecting a total of 92,117 votes to the PAICV's 87,435, and capturing 11 out of 22 municipalities, including the capital.

Large numbers of migrants from other African countries continued to stop in Cape Verde while trying to reach Europe. In 2007, authorities apprehended and repatriated several hundred would-be migrants. The government also announced that it would seek to negotiate exemptions from clauses guaranteeing free circulation and migration between members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to which Cape Verde belonged. Also in 2007, the European Union (EU) agreed to enhance its support for economic development in Cape Verde, while aiming to turn the archipelago into a shield against traffickers of migrants and illegal drugs by opening up its waters to EU security agencies' patrols and intelligence-gathering. In June 2008, Cape Verde and the EU signed an agreement under which Cape Verdeans would have easier access to signatory EU member states, in particular for seasonal work, while Cape Verde would undertake specific commitments to contain illegal migration to Europe.

Cape Verde, along with other parts of West Africa, is increasingly serving as a major transit point for narcotics trafficking between Latin America and Europe. In December 2007, a convicted drug trafficker who was collaborating with authorities was murdered in prison by another inmate, in what was alleged to be a professional hit organized by drug traffickers, the U.S. State Department reported. According to data cited by the Associated Press in 2008, Cape Verdean passport-holders account for 25 percent of all West African drug traffickers arrested in Europe.

Cape Verde lacks significant natural resources and suffers from persistent drought, and only 11 percent of the archipelago's land is arable. However, the economy has benefited from high levels of remittances from Cape Verdeans living overseas, a boom in service-oriented industries, and increasing tourism. Economic growth in recent years has averaged 7 percent, nearly double the West African average, and in 2007 a government reproductive health official announced that Cape Verde's fertility rate had decreased by half over the past 20 years. Also that year, Cape Verde graduated from the United Nations' category of Least Developed Countries, becoming a Medium Developed Country. (Cape Verde is the second country globally to make this transition, following Botswana in 1994.) The country continued to suffer from unemployment rates of roughly 20 percent, however, along with growing income inequality. In June 2008, Cape Verde became a member of the World Trade Organization, capping nine years of negotiations. In July, the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) announced plans to provide a $4.2 million loan for rural poverty reduction, with total IFAD spending to reach $13.5 million.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Cape Verde is an electoral democracy. The president and members of the 72-seat National Assembly are elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. The prime minister, who nominates the other members of the cabinet, is himself nominated by the National Assembly and appointed by the president. International observers considered the 2006 presidential and legislative elections to be free and fair.

The left-leaning PAICV has dominated Cape Verde for much of its postindependence history. The main opposition party is the centrist MPD. The only other party to hold seats in the National Assembly is the much smaller Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union.

While the actual toll of corruption is difficult to gauge, the country has repeatedly been singled out by donor nations and international organizations for good governance. The U.S. government gave the country a vote of confidence in 2005 by agreeing to provide $110 million in aid from the Millennium Challenge Account, based on a positive evaluation of its governance and anticorruption initiatives. The U.S. State Department reported in 2008 that police corruption was not significant. Cape Verde was ranked 47 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of the press is legally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. While government authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other periodicals, there were no reports of licenses being denied or revoked in 2008. The independent press is small but vigorous, and there are several private and community-run radio stations. State-run media include a radio broadcaster and a television station. Licenses were issued to four private television stations in 2007, but only two were operating as of 2008. The government did not impede or monitor internet access.

Religious freedom is respected in practice, and the constitution requires the separation of church and state. However, the vast majority of Cape Verdeans belong to the Roman Catholic Church, whose followers enjoy a somewhat privileged status. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedoms of assembly and association are legally guaranteed and respected in practice. Nongovernmental organizations operate freely. The constitution also protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. The U.S. State Department has found in its annual human rights report that while collective bargaining is permitted, it rarely occurs.

The judiciary is independent but understaffed and slow-moving, and cases are frequently delayed. In May 2007, National Assembly president Aristides Lima acknowledged that the judicial police force lacks funding and is unable to cover the entire country. Prison conditions are poor and characterized by overcrowding. Police beatings of detainees have been reported; in December 2005, prison guards reportedly abused inmates at the Sao Martinho Prison following a riot in which a prisoner was killed.

Ethnic divisions are not a salient problem in Cape Verde, although tensions occasionally flare between the authorities and West African immigrants.

Three new female members of parliament were elected in 2006, bringing the postelection total of women legislators to 11. The government amended the penal code in 2004 to include sex crimes and verbal and mental abuse against women and children as punishable acts. Nonetheless, the government did not effectively enforce the law, according to the U.S. State Department. The government is a signatory to the African Protocol on the Rights of Women, which came into force in 2005. The protocol seeks to set international legal standards for women's rights, such as the criminalization of female genital mutilation and the prohibition of abuse of women in advertising and pornography. However, despite legal prohibitions, violence and discrimination against women remain widespread.

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