Cape Verde

Name derived from "Cap-Vert" (Green Cape) on the Senegalese coast, which is the westernmost point of Africa and the nearest point on the mainland to the islands.

Year:  2017

Area: 4,033 sq. km.

Population: 553,432 -- 174th in World

Flag: Five unequal horizontal bands; the topmost band of blue - equal to one half the width of the flag - is followed by three bands of white, red, and white, each equal to 1/12 of the width, and a bottom stripe of blue equal to one quarter of the flag width. A circle of ten yellow, five-pointed stars is centered on the red stripe and positioned 3/8 of the length of the flag from the hoist side; blue stands for the sea and the sky, the circle of stars represents the ten major islands united into a nation, the stripes symbolize the road to formation of the country through peace (white) and effort (red).

When Portuguese mariners discovered Cape Verde in 1456, the islands were uninhabited but fertile-enough to attract the first group of settlers six years later. They founded Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha), the first European town in the tropics, on the island of São Vicente. To work the land, settlers almost immediately began to import slaves from the West African coast. The islands’ remote yet strategic position made them a perfect clearinghouse and supply station for the transatlantic slave trade.

In 1747, changing weather patterns, aggravated by deforestation and overgrazing, resulted in Cape Verde’s first recorded drought. In the 100 years from 1773, three droughts killed some 100,000 people – more than 40% of the population each time.

To escape hunger, many men left the islands, primarily to work as hired hands on American whaling ships. Even today, Cape Verdean communities along the New England coast rival the population of Cape Verde itself, and foreign remittances account for as much as 20% of GNP.

Cape Verde’s fortunes revived with the advent of the ocean liner at the end of the 19th century. It became an important stopover for coal, water and livestock. Mindelo, with its deep, protected harbor, became the island’s new commercial and cultural center. When the airplane replaced the ocean liner, Cape Verde responded in kind, opening an international airport on the island of Sal in 1948.

Because much of Cape Verde’s population was mixed race, they tended to fare better than fellow Africans in other Portuguese colonies. Beginning in the mid-19th century, a privileged few even received an education, many going on to help administrate other African colonies. By independence, 25% of the population could read (compared with 5% in Guinea-Bissau).

However, to the chagrin of the Portuguese, literate Cape Verdeans were gradually becoming aware of the nationalism simmering on the mainland. Soon, together with leaders of Guinea-Bissau, they had established a joint independence movement. In 1956, Cape Verdean intellectual Amilcar Cabral (born in Guinea-Bissau) founded the Marxist-inspired Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), later renamed the Partido Africano da Independência de Cabo Verde (PAICV).

As other European powers were relinquishing their colonies, Portugal’s right-wing dictator, António Salazar, propped up his regime with dreams of colonial greatness. From the early 1960s, one of Africa’s longest wars of independence ensued. However, most of the fighting took place in Guinea-Bissau, and indeed many middle-class Cape Verdeans remained lukewarm toward independence.

Eventually, Portugal’s war became an international scandal and lead to the nonviolent demise of its dictatorship in 1974, with Cape Verde finally gaining full independence a year later.

Although the PAICV nationalized most industries and instituted a one-party state, it managed to limit corruption, instituting remarkably successful health and education programs. Unfortunately, independence did not solve the problem of drought, and in 1985 disaster struck again. However, this time the USA and Portugal contributed 85% of the food deficit to avoid disaster.

By the late 1980s, there were increasing calls for a multiparty democracy, and in 1990 the PAICV acquiesced, allowing lawyer Carlos Veiga to found the Movimento para a Democracia (MPD). With a center-right policy of political and economic liberalization, the MPD swept to power in the 1991 elections. With this dramatic change, Cape Verde was able to establish a two-party system. With the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Cape Verde adhered to more a centrist policy of prudent fiscal and economic management.

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