Cape Verde | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Cape Verde

Cape Verde

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Cape Verde, a West African archipelago, had a spectacularly close presidential election in February 2001. In the end, 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 Movement for Democracy (MPD). Both presidential candidates have 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 African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) also defeated the MPD in January's legislative polls. The change in voting appeared to be a reflection of the popular attitude that the MPD had grown complacent.

After achieving independence from Portugal in 1975, Cape Verde was governed under Marxist, one-party rule by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (which is now the PAICV) for the next 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. Antoio Mascarenhas Monteiro's mandate ended in 2001 after he had served two terms as president.

Respect for human rights and civil liberties remain very good in Cape Verde. Concern about prison conditions was raised during the year, but detention facilities are far better than in many neighboring countries.

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 is making efforts to take advantage of benefits offered by the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, hoping to gain access to U.S. markets and attract foreign investment.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The president and members of the national people's assembly 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 three times by democratic means. The 2001 presidential election was close from the first round, when Pires won 46.5 percent of the vote compared to 45.8 percent for Veiga. Two other candidates failed to gain 10 percent between them. The second round of voting produced an even percentage split and was decided on a dozen votes.

In the legislative elections of 2001, 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.

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.

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 arrest.

Human rights groups, including the National Commission on the Rights of Man and the Ze Moniz Association, operate freely. Concern about overcrowding, medical care, violence, and the use of disciplinary cells in Cape Verde's prisons was raised in 2001 by Ze Moniz.

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. Several Roman Catholic churches, however, have been desecrated in recent years. 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. Broadcasts are largely state controlled, but there is a growing independent press. 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 the 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. Domestic nongovernmental organizations have undertaken campaigns to promote the rights of women and children.

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 Workers, include 25 unions with approximately 30,000 members.