Freedom in the World
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Presidential and legislative elections, considered free and fair by the international community, were held in early 2006. The incumbent African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) won both, ensuring a legislative majority and a new five-year mandate for President Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires. The country enjoyed a boost in its international image in June when NATO conducted training exercises in the archipelago. At the urging of the European Union, the government announced in September that it would pass new restrictions on entry for people from other West African nations in an effort to curb illegal immigration to Europe.
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, now the PAICV. In 1991, in the country’s first democratic elections after becoming the first former Portuguese colony in Africa to abandon Marxist political and economic systems, the Movement for Democracy (MPD) won a landslide victory. 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 12 votes in an election that overturned a decade of rule by the MPD. Despite the closeness of the election, trust remained in the country’s institutions, and the results were accepted.
In local elections held in March 2004, the PAICV faced a serious challenge from the opposition MPD, which defeated the ruling party in several of its traditional strongholds. The MPD’s president, Agostinho Lopes, claimed that there had been irregularities in the voters’ rolls of some polling stations, though international observers concluded that the elections had been free and fair.
In legislative elections in January 2006, the PAICV won a majority of the 72 seats in the National Assembly, taking 41 as compared to the MPD’s 29. The Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union, a smaller opposition party, won the remaining two seats. Pires of the PAICV won a new five-year mandate in the presidential election that followed in February, with 51.2 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Veiga, who had run against him in 2001 only to be defeated by a dozen votes, claimed that the results were fraudulent, though election monitors from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deemed them free and fair.
Following the elections, the government announced that it would prioritize economic growth and competitiveness. Cape Verde is one of Africa’s smallest and poorest countries, and it suffers from unemployment rates of roughly 50 percent. Foreign aid and remittances by Cape Verdean expatriates provide a large portion of national income. Only 11 percent of the archipelago’s land is arable. However, in 2006, the International Monetary Fund, which had reported in 2005 that economic growth levels were increasing, agreed to include Cape Verde in a new program aimed at improving fiscal discipline and overseas investment. Cape Verde also benefited from international aid during the year. In January, the European Commission granted Cape Verde 12.5 million euros (US$15.8 million) for poverty alleviation, and in June, the World Bank approved a credit of US$10 million to support growth and fight poverty. It was the second in a planned series of three credits.
For several weeks in June 2006, NATO held training exercises in Cape Verde, which provided an opportunity for local officials to boost the country’s international image and draw attention to its credentials as a stable bulwark in a strategic region between Africa and Western Europe. While Defense Minister Cristina Fontes stated that the exercises could be a step toward developing a cooperative partnership with NATO similar to those enjoyed by several North African nations, this possibility was downplayed by NATO officials.
Large numbers of migrants from other African countries continued to dock on the islands of Cape Verde seeking further transit to Europe. In September, reportedly at the urging of the European Union, Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira Neves announced that Cape Verde would enact new restrictions on the entry of people from mainland West Africa, despite an agreement under ECOWAS granting free movement to people and goods within the 15-country territory. The Associated Press reported that Spain was planning to send Coast Guard ships to help Cape Verde patrol its waters.
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. International observers considered the 2006 presidential and legislative elections to be free and fair. The opposition candidate for president, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, charged that the presidential results were tainted by fraud; however, the results were upheld in the courts and generally accepted by the people.
The left-leaning African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde, or PAICV, has dominated Cape Verde for much of its postindependence history. The main opposition party is the centrist Movement for Democracy (MPD). The only other party to hold seats in Parliament is the much smaller Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union.
In an October 2006 op-ed, Prime Minister Neves claimed that Cape Verde had “zero” corruption. 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 good governance and anticorruption initiatives. In October 2006, the World Bank praised Cape Verde, along with a handful of other African countries, for having “lifted significant percentages of [its] citizens above the poverty line.” The government has made efforts to fight corruption and has acknowledged corruption in the customs department. It has adopted laws and regulations to combat corruption, which is a criminally punishable offense. Cape Verde was not ranked in the 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index
Freedoms of expression and of the press are guaranteed and generally respected in practice. While government authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other publications, there were no reports of licenses denied or revoked in 2006. There is a small but robust independent press, with 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. The Cape Verdean Association of Journalists said in May 2005 that press freedom was improving in the country. Citizens enjoy liberal access to the internet, and local media have increased their online presence in recent years, which has resulted in a wider reach for the independent press.
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 guaranteed and respected in practice. Human rights groups, including the National Commission on the Rights of Man and the Ze Moniz Association for Solidarity and Development, operate freely. The constitution also protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. Although collective bargaining is permitted, it occurs rarely. According to a U.S. State Department report released in early 2006, the government sometimes limits the right to strike by reserving the right to name a list of “minimum services” unionized workers must continue to provide. According to the report, attempts to convene an independent body to rule on the validity of such requirements have so far been fruitless.
The judiciary is independent, although understaffed and inefficient, and cases are frequently delayed. In recent years, attacks on members of the judiciary, including the attorney general, have been reported, and some magistrates have requested personal protection. Drug traffickers were suspected of being behind some of the attacks, in which prominent businesspeople have also been targeted. In the past there have been reports that police beat persons in custody or detention, though there was no prominent incident in 2006. Although the government investigated the allegations, no legal action was taken against the alleged perpetrators. Prison conditions are poor and characterized by overcrowding. In December 2005, a riot broke out in a prison near Praia when prisoners’ relatives were asked to stagger their visits during the Christmas holidays because of overcrowding. One person was reported dead in the riot.
Ethnic divisions are not a problem in Cape Verde, although tensions occasionally flare between the authorities and West African immigrants.
Three new women were elected to Parliament in the January elections, bringing the postelection total of women legislators to 11. However, discrimination against women persists despite legal prohibitions against gender discrimination as well as provisions for social and economic equality. In August 2006 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released a report praising Cape Verde’s progress since independence in women’s education and advances made by women in the judicial and diplomatic fields. Yet, the report concluded that the government needed to expand the role of women in politics and strengthen its data-collection capabilities in order to better monitor women’s status in society.
At the encouragement of the government and civil society, more women are reporting criminal offenses such as spousal abuse or rape. The government amended the penal code in 2004 to include sex crimes and verbal and mental abuse against women and children as punishable acts. The government is a signatory to the African Protocol on the Rights of Women, which came into force in November 2005. The protocol seeks to set international legal precedents for women’s rights, such as the criminalization of female genital mutilation and the prohibition of abuse of women in advertising and pornography.