Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Cape Verde continued to serve as a model for political rights and civil liberties in Africa in 2009. In a sign of the country’s generally good governance, the World Food Programme agreed to transfer its school feeding responsibilities to Cape Verdean authorities, and swift government action late in the year helped to contain the country’s first outbreak of dengue fever.
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. That February’s presidential election was spectacularly close, with PAICV candidate Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires defeating Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga of the MPD by just 13 votes in the second round. Despite the thin margin, the results were widely accepted. The PAICV had also captured a majority in legislative elections the previous month.
The January 2006 legislative elections had a similar outcome, with the PAICV taking 41 of the 72 seats, the MPD placing second with 29, and the Democratic and Independent Cape Verdean Union (UCID), a smaller opposition party, securing the remaining two seats. Pires won a new five-year mandate in the February presidential election, garnering 51.2 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Veiga, claimed that the results were fraudulent, but they were endorsed by international election monitors.
In June 2007, the parliament unanimously passed new electoral code provisions aimed at strengthening the National Electoral Commission’s transparency and independence. Voter registration for municipal elections held in May 2008 marked the debut of a biometric registry. The opposition MPD won a marginal victory, capturing 11 out of 22 municipalities, including the capital.
Large numbers of migrants from other African countries continue to stop in Cape Verde while trying to reach Europe. In 2007, the government announced that it would seek to negotiate exemptions from clauses guaranteeing free movement between members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Cape Verde and the European Union (EU) signed an agreement the following year under which Cape Verdeans would have easier access to certain EU member states, in particular for seasonal work, while Cape Verde would undertake specific commitments to contain illegal migration to Europe.
In addition to its role in the flow of migrants, Cape Verde is increasingly serving as a transit point for drug trafficking between Latin America and Europe. According to data cited by the Associated Press in 2008, Cape Verdean passport-holders accounted for 25 percent of all West African drug traffickers arrested in Europe. The United Nations, ECOWAS, the EU and the United States have recognized this increase and have committed funds to aid in Cape Verde's policing activities.
Cape Verde lacks natural resources and has little arable land; unemployment rates remain at roughly 20 percent, and there is growing income inequality. Nevertheless, the economy has benefited from high levels of remittances from citizens working overseas, a boom in service-oriented industries, and increasing tourism. Cape Verde joined the World Trade Organization in 2008, capping nine years of negotiations. And in an indication of the country’s good governance, the UN World Food Programme announced in 2009 that it would hand over its school feeding program to Cape Verdean officials in 2010.
In November 2009, Cape Verde declared a national emergency to contain its first dengue fever outbreak, which affected more than 14,000 people, including Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira Neves. Swift government action and foreign assistance were credited with mitigating the outbreak.
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 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 Verdean politics for most of the period since independence. The main opposition party is the centrist MPD. The only other party holding seats in the National Assembly is the UCID.
Cape Verde received the second-highest ranking in the 2009 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, and placed in the top five in all of the index’s categories. 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 governance and anticorruption initiatives. However, the U.S. State Department reported in 2009 that police corruption was increasing. Cape Verde was ranked 46 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, making it the third-best performer in Africa.
While government authorization is needed to publish newspapers and other periodicals, freedom of the press is legally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. 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. Licenses were issued to four private television stations in 2007, but only two were operating as of 2009. The government does not impede or monitor internet access.
According to the 2009 U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report, there were no societal or governmental incidents of religious intolerance, and the constitution requires the separation of church and state. However, the vast majority of Cape Verdeans belong to the Roman Catholic Church, which enjoys a somewhat privileged status. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are legally guaranteed and observed in practice. Nongovernmental organizations operate freely. The constitution also protects the right to unionize, and workers may form and join unions without restriction. Roughly 25 percent of the workforce is unionized, but collective bargaining is reportedly rare.
Cape Verde’s judiciary is independent. However, the capacity and efficiency of the courts are limited, and the U.S. State Department has reported that pretrial detentions of a year or more are common. In May 2007, National Assembly president Aristides Lima acknowledged that the judicial police force lacked funding and was unable to cover the entire country. Prison conditions are poor and characterized by overcrowding. While police beatings of detainees have been reported, increased reform and media coverage have seemingly mitigated such abuses. Juveniles are often incarcerated with adult populations.
Ethnic divisions are not a salient problem in Cape Verde, although tensions occasionally flare between the authorities and West African immigrants.
Three new female members of parliament were elected in 2006, bringing the total to 11. The government amended the penal code in 2004 to include sex crimes and verbal and mental abuse against women and children as punishable acts, but the government has not effectively enforced the law, according to the U.S. State Department. The government is a signatory to the African Protocol on the Rights of Women, which came into force in 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. However, despite legal prohibitions, domestic violence and discrimination against women remain commonplace.