The known history of Cape Verde dates from the first Portuguese explorers, who arrived in the fifteenth century. In 1444, Diogo Dias discovered some of the islands. In the next decade, Cadamosto and António Noli, captains in the service of prince Henry the Navigator, discovered the rest of the archipelago. In 1462, the first Portuguese settlers arrived at São Tiago 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.
The archipelago has experienced recurrent drought and famine since the end of the 18th century, and, with the decline in the slave trade, its fragile prosperity slowly vanished. However, the islands' position astride mid-Atlantic shipping lanes made Cape Verde an ideal location for resupplying ships. Because of its excellent harbor, Mindelo (on the island of São Vicente) became an important commercial center during the 19th century.
Portugal changed Cape Verde's status from a colony to an overseas province in 1951 in an attempt to blunt growing nationalism. Nevertheless, in 1956, Amilcar Cabral, a Cape Verdean, and Rafael Barbosa organized (in Guinea-Bissau) the clandestine African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which demanded improvement in economic, social, and political conditions in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea and formed the basis of the two nations' independence movement. Moving its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea in 1960, the PAIGC began an armed rebellion against Portugal in 1961. Acts of sabotage eventually grew into a war in Portuguese Guinea that pitted 10,000 Soviet bloc-supported PAIGC soldiers against 35,000 Portuguese and African troops.
By 1972, the PAIGC controlled much of Portuguese Guinea despite the presence of the Portuguese troops. For logistical reasons, the organization did not attempt to disrupt Portuguese control in Cape Verde. Following the April 1974 revolution in Portugal, however, the PAIGC became an active political movement in Cape Verde.
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.
Immediately following a November 1980 coup in Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese Guinea declared independence in 1973 and was granted de jure independence in 1974), relations between the two countries became strained. Cape Verde abandoned its hope for unity with Guinea-Bissau and formed the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). Problems have since been resolved, and relations between the countries are good. The PAICV and its predecessor established a one-party system and ruled Cape Verde from independence until 1990.
Responding to growing pressure for a political opening, the PAICV called an emergency congress in February 1990 to discuss proposed constitutional changes to end one-party rule. Opposition groups came together to form the Movement for Democracy (MpD) in Praia in April 1990. Together, they campaigned for the right to contest the presidential election scheduled for December 1990. The one-party state was abolished September 28, 1990, and the first multi-party elections were held in January 1991. The MpD won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, and the MpD presidential candidate Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro defeated the PAICV's candidate by 73.5% of the votes cast to 26.5%. He succeeded the country's first president, who had served since 1975, Aristides Peirera. Legislative elections in December 1995 increased the MpD majority in the National Assembly. The party held 50 of the National Assembly's 72 seats. A February 1996 presidential election returned President Mascarenhas Monteiro to office. The December 1995 and February 1996 elections were judged free and fair by domestic and international observers. In the presidential election campaign of 2000 and 2001, two former prime ministers, Pedro Pires and Carlos Vega were the main candidates. Pires was the prime minister during the PAICV regime, while Vega served as prime minister during most of Montero's presidency, stepping aside only when it came time for campaigning. In what might have been one of the closest races in electoral history, Pires won by 17 votes, he and Vega each receiving nearly half the votes.