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Cape Verde

The Cape Verde archipelago was uninhabited until the Portuguese discovered the islands in 1456. Enslaved Africans were brought to the islands to work on Portuguese plantations. They were joined by entrepreneurs and refugees fleeing religious persecution in Europe, leading to a rich cultural and ethnic mix. The influence of African culture is most pronounced on the island of Santiago, where nearly half of the population resides. Sparse rain and few natural resources historically have induced Cape Verdeans to emigrate. It is believed that of the more than 1 million individuals of Cape Verdean ancestry, fewer than half actually live on the islands.

In 1462, Portuguese settlers arrived at Santiago and founded Ribeira Grande (now Cidade Velha), the first permanent European settlement city in the tropics. In the 16th century, the archipelago prospered from the transatlantic slave trade. Pirates occasionally attacked the Portuguese settlements. Sir Francis Drake sacked Ribeira Grande in 1585. After a French attack in 1712, the city declined in importance relative to Praia, which became the capital in 1770. With the decline in the slave trade, Cape Verde's early prosperity slowly vanished. However, the islands' position astride mid-Atlantic shipping lanes made Cape Verde an ideal location for re-supplying ships. In 1951, Portugal changed Cape Verde's status from a colony to an overseas province in an attempt to blunt growing nationalism.

The Cape Verde Islands are situated in the central Atlantic Ocean, some 300 miles off Africa's west coast and 1,800 miles from Lisbon. This position astride the shipping route from Europe around the Cape of Good Hope to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf has a potentially high strategic value. Portugal constructed a well-developed airfield - some 10,800 feet long on Sal Island and improved port facilities on Sao Vicente, where there was an excellent natural harbor.

In 1956 a group of Cape Verdeans, led by Amilcar Cabral, and a group from neighboring Guinea-Bissau, organized the clandestine African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) demanding improvements in economic, social, and political conditions in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea. Their goal was negotiating independence for Portuguese Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands from their Portuguese colonizers.

The PAIGC was known to have had internal stresses. There had been indications for a number of years of friction between the predominantly mulatto leadership and the largely black cadre. Cabral also faced serious though sporadic opposition from his military commanders, who chafed under his curbs on military activity in Portuguese Guinea and the continuing subordination of military to political aims.

By 1972, the PAIGC controlled much of Portuguese Guinea despite the presence of the Portuguese troops, but the organization did not attempt to disrupt Portuguese control in Cape Verde. Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, the PAIGC and Portugal signed an agreement providing for a transitional government composed of Portuguese and Cape Verdeans. On June 30, 1975, Cape Verdeans elected a national assembly, which received the instruments of independence from Portugal on July 5, 1975, making it the official national day of independence. For its first 15 years of independence, Cape Verde was ruled by one party. Then in 1990, opposition groups came together to form the Movement for Democracy. Working together they ended the 1-party state and the first multi-party elections were held in January 1991. Cape Verde enjoys a stable democratic system.

Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. In December 1974, the PAIGC and Portugal signed an agreement providing for a transitional government composed of Portuguese and Cape Verdeans. On June 30, 1975, Cape Verdeans elected a National Assembly, which received the instruments of independence from Portugal on July 5, 1975. The new republics of Guines-Bissau and Cape Verde were ruled from Praia, the capital of Cape Verde. The president of Bissau was the Cape Verdean Luis Cabral; the party chief was the president of Cape Verde, Aristides Pereira.

In the fall of 1980, Guinea-Bissau was to get a new constitution, under which unification of the two republics into one country was to take place, as planned under the Statute of PAIGC. This constitution provided that government power in Bissau would no longer be vested in a minister-president, but a president. Black Guineans would have lost the last chance for co-determination.

Guinea-Bissau, for centuries a Portuguese colony, was in danger of becoming a possession of Cape Verde. Cape Verdeans, like Luis Cabral, are mulattos, descendants of African slaves and Portuguese who centuries ago had ended up on these islands, a 1,000km in the Atlantic. Cape Verdeans felt that their ties were less with Africa than with Europe and America: more than 400,000 of them live there, and only 200,000 on the islands themselves. The 850,000 blacks in Guinea-Bissau felt themselves patronized, ignored and exploited by the mulattos. The new constitutional plan finally led to an uprising on the mainland. In late 1980, the government was overthrown in a relatively bloodless coup led by Prime Minister and former armed forces commander Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira.

Immediately following the November 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau, relations between Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau became strained. Cape Verde abandoned its hope for unity with Guinea-Bissau and formed the African Party for Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). The PAICV and its predecessor established a one-party system and ruled Cape Verde from independence until 1990. one-party state was abolished September 28, 1990, and the first multi-party elections were held in January 1991.

There are close to 350,000 Cape Verdean-Americans living in the United States, almost equal to the population of Cape Verde itself. These Americans hold a special right since the Cape Verdean Constitution formally considers all Cape Verdeans at home and abroad as citizens and voters.

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