Cape Verde | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Cape Verde

Cape Verde

Freedom in the World 2008

2008 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The National Assembly in June 2007 unanimously approved changes to the country’s electoral code that were aimed at strengthening the National Electoral Commission’s independence and transparency. In November, the European Union agreed to a special partnership with Cape Verde to promote cooperation on good governance, security, and stability, including tackling illegal drug trafficking and illegal migration to Europe. Investment in a budding tourism industry spurred economic growth, and the United Nations announced that Cape Verde would graduate in 2008 from the category of Least Developed Countries to that of Medium Developed Countries.

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, opposition candidate Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires defeated ruling party contender Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga by 12 votes, overturning a decade of MPD rule. Despite the closeness of the election, the public continued to trust the country’s institutions, and the results were 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 2 seats. Pires of the PAICV 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 international election monitors deemed them free and fair.

In June 2007, Cape Verde’s parliament unanimously approved changes to the electoral code ahead of municipal elections scheduled for 2008. Under the new provisions, aimed at strengthening the National Electoral Commission’s transparency and independence, the commission’s president would need the support of two-thirds of the National Assembly. The new code also provided for a new electoral census, to be conducted between September and December 2007. However, the appointment of a new electoral commission and the start of the census were delayed until November and December, respectively, due to disputes between the ruling PAICV and the main opposition Movement for Democracy party over the commission’s membership.

Large numbers of migrants from other African countries continued to stop in Cape Verde while trying to reach Europe. Under pressure from the European Union (EU), local authorities continued to crack down on would-be migrants, apprehending and repatriating several hundred in 2007. Also during the year, the government 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. In April, U.S. naval forces conducted training exercises with the Cape Verdean Coast Guard to improve maritime security, and the Spanish government in July sent a boat and aircraft to patrol the waters surrounding Cape Verde in an effort to curb immigration and drug trafficking through West Africa to Europe. In November, the EU agreed to a special partnership with Cape Verde on good governance, security, and stability. The partnership enhances EU 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.

While Cape Verde lacks significant natural resources and is one of Africa’s smallest and poorest countries, the economy has benefited in recent years from increasing numbers of tourists drawn by the country’s beaches and natural scenery. The International Monetary Fund projected economic growth in 2007 to reach 7 percent, driven by investment in tourism-related construction. The United Nations announced during the year that Cape Verde would graduate from the category of Least Developed Countries, becoming a Medium Developed Country effective January 2008. (Cape Verde is the second country ever to make this transition, following Botswana in 1994.) However, government officials expressed concern that the change in status, which will cause Cape Verde to lose preferential trade benefits and certain types of international loans, could in fact undermine antipoverty programs. In November, Cape Verde completed entry negotiations with the World Trade Organization, paving the way to membership in 2008. The country continued to suffer from unemployment rates of roughly 20 percent, and remittances by Cape Verdean expatriates provided a large portion of national income. Only 11 percent of the archipelago’s land is arable.

Cape Verde benefited from international aid during 2007. In March, the World Bank approved a $10 million poverty reduction credit to support good governance, develop human capital, and improve access to social services. This was the third and last in a series of antipoverty grants from the international agency. In July, the World Bank approved $3 million in additional financing to support the implementation of the Cape Verde Growth and Competitiveness Project, ongoing since 2003.

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 Movement for Democracy (MPD). The only other party to hold seats in the National Assembly is the much smaller Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union.

In an October 2006 opinion article, Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira 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 March 2007, the government announced that it would introduce a new law to strengthen anticorruption provisions. Cape Verde was ranked 49 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2007 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 2007, and two new private newspapers were launched in September. 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, and there are two foreign-owned television stations. Criticism of the government by state-run media is limited by self-censorship stemming from employees’ fear of demotion or dismissal.

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. 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. 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. In December 2005, prison guards reportedly abused inmates at the Sao Martinho Prison following a riot in which a prisoner was killed. A criminal case was brought against several prison guards in connection with the incident, the status of which was unclear in 2007.

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

Three new women were elected to parliament in the 2006 elections, bringing the postelection total of women legislators to 11. However, discrimination against women persists despite legal prohibitions against gender discrimination and provisions for social and economic equality.

At the encouragement of the government and civil society, more women are reporting criminal offenses such as spousal abuse and 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 standards for women’s rights, such as the criminalization of female genital mutilation and the prohibition of abuse of women in advertising and pornography. In 2007, a government reproductive health official announced that Cape Verde’s fertility rate had decreased by half over the past 20 years.