History of Cape Verde

Published on 21st March 2006

The islands are divided into two groups: Barlavento in the north, composed of Santo Antão (291 sq mi; 754 sq km), Boa Vista (240 sq mi; 622 sq km), São Nicolau (132 sq mi; 342 sq km), São Vicente (88 sq mi; 246 sq km), Sal (83 sq mi; 298 sq km), and Santa Luzia (13 sq mi; 34 sq km); and Sotavento in the south, consisting of São Tiago (383 sq mi; 992 sq km), Fogo (184 sq mi; 477 sq km), Maio (103 sq mi; 267 sq km), and Brava (25 sq mi; 65 sq km). The islands are mostly mountainous, with the land deeply scarred by erosion. There is an active volcano on Fogo.

Cape Verde was discovered in 1456 by Luigi da Cadamosto, a navigator in the service of Portugal. Four years later, Diogo Gomes, a Portuguese explorer, visited the uninhabited islands, and colonists from Portugal began to settle there in 1462. People from W. Africa were soon brought in as slaves, and by the 16th cent. the islands had become a shipping center for slave trade. Later a Portuguese penal colony was established, and some of the convicts remained after completing their terms. Slavery was abolished on the islands in 1876. Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) was administered as part of the Cape Verde Islands until 1879. In 1951 the status of the islands was changed from colony to overseas province. 

Although the nationalist movement appeared less fervent in Cape Verde than in Portugal's other African holdings, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was founded in 1956 and many Cape Verdeans fought for independence in Guinea-Bissau. After the fall (Apr., 1974) of the Caetano regime in Portugal, widespread unrest forced the government to negotiate with the PAIGC, and independence for Guinea-Bissau (Sept., 1974) and Cape Verde (July, 1975) soon followed. Although the PAIGC was the sole legal party in both nations, a movement to unite the two was hindered by Cape Verde's nationalism and geographic remoteness. Plans for unity came to an abrupt end in 1980 after Guinea-Bissau's government (which was mostly Cape Verdean) was overthrown in a coup.

In 1981 the PAIGC was renamed the PAICV (African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde), a new constitution was adopted, and Arístides Maria Pereira (Cape Verde's first president) was reelected. In 1983, Cape Verde normalized relations with Guinea-Bissau, and in 1986, Pereira was unanimously reelected. Multiparty elections were held in 1991; the centrist Movement for Democracy party (MPD) took a majority of seats in the national assembly, and Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, an independent, defeated Pereira for the presidency. The MPD retained its majority in the 1995 assembly elections, and Mascarenhas Monteiro was reelected unopposed in 1996.

In the late 1990s the government continued economic reforms aimed at developing the private sector and attracting foreign investment. However, the nation has been plagued with a prolonged drought that has caused staggering economic problems and large-scale emigration, as well as the need to import most of its food. In 2001 the PAICV regained control of national assembly, and PAICV candidate Pedro Pires won the presidency.


Farming, the main economic activity, is severely limited by the small annual rainfall and extensive soil erosion; about 90% of the country's food must be imported. Cape Verde has considerable underground reserves of water, but extraction has proved too costly. Tuna and lobster are the main catches of a small but potentially rich fishing industry. Salt is extracted and there are unexploited gypsum deposits. The islands' manufactures are limited to processed food, beverages, clothes, and footware. The islands carry on a small foreign trade, mostly with Portugal and other European Union countries; the annual cost of imports is usually much higher than export earnings. Remittances from emigrants living in the United States, Portugal, and Africa constitute an important supplement to the islands' economy.

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Praia, 99,400

Other large city: Mindelo, 66,100

Monetary unit: Cape Verdean escudo

Languages: Portuguese, Criuolo

Ethnicity/race: Creole (mulatto) 71%, African 28%, European 1%

Religion: Roman Catholic (infused with indigenous beliefs), Protestant (mostly Church of the Nazarene)

Literacy rate: 77% (2003 est.)

Below is an analysis of Cape Verde according to The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal:

Rank: 46

Score: 2.69

Category: Mostly Unfree

Population: 469,000

Total area: 4,033 sq. km

GDP: $605 billion

GDP growth rate: 5.0%

GDP per capita: $1,290

Major exports: fish products, fuel, clothing and footwear

Exports of goods and services: $193.7 million

Major export trading partners: Portugal 31.5%, France 26.0%, US 18.5%, UK 17.0%

Major imports:  fuels, food and industrial products

Imports of goods and services: $413 million

Major import trading partners: Portugal 46.3%, Netherlands 8.9%, France 4.1%

Foreign direct investment (net): $2.1 million


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The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation Heritage and The Wall Street Journal

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