U. S. Department of State
Background Notes: Cape Verde, May 1998
Released by the Office of Francophone West African Affairs, Bureau of 
African Affairs.

Official Name: 
Republic of Cape Verde


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. 

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. 

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 
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 (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 
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. 

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 Antčo, Sčo Vicente, Santa Luzia, Sčo 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 Antčo, and Sčo 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. 

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 

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. 

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 Sčo 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 

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). 

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. 

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 Antčo, 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. 

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 

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 

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. 

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-

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 

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) 

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. 
[end of document]

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