Cape Verde was probably discovered in 1456 by Luigi da Cadamosto, who at that time was in service to Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal (Henrique o Navegador); the islands showed no signs of any previous human settlement. In 1462, São Tiago was the first island to receive settlers. Plantation agriculture was established by the Portuguese community and worked by African slaves, who were brought in from the adjacent Guinea coast. There was a population of free Africans and a population of Crioles on the island of São Tiago from an early period, and that island retains strong cultural ties with the African mainland.
The islands produced trade goods; especially important were cattle, cotton cloths (panos) made by slave women, and rum (grog). These goods were used to purchase slaves and consumer items from slavers trading in the African interior. The economy of the islands suffered from colonial restrictions on the production of potentially competitive export commodities, as well as from cyclical drought. Between 1747 and 1960, an estimated 250,000 Cape Verdeans died of famine.
The phase out of the Atlantic slave trade and the abolition of slavery in the Portuguese Empire, coupled with an 1886 law providing for the settlement of former Cape Verde slaves on open lands, brought the end of Cape Verde's importance as a slave-trading center. The islands' historical role as a port of call (prior to the building of the Suez Canal) became important again in the mid-twentieth century, when they were used by Portuguese troops as a staging area for their African campaigns. Portuguese control of the islands was strong enough to keep the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde—PAIGC) in exile until 1974.
The military coup in Portugal in April 1974 resulted in Portuguese decolonization in Africa, and an independence agreement was signed between Portuguese and PAIGC representatives on 30 December 1974, leading to the establishment of the two independent republics: the Republic of Guinea-Bissau on 24 September 1974 and the Republic of Cape Verde on 5 July 1975.
Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau—where Luis de Almeida Cabral, a Cape Verdean, was president—were politically unified until a military coup in Guinea-Bissau toppled Cabral in November 1980. The Cape Verde wing of PAIGC subsequently broke its links with the mainland and temporarily abandoned the goal of unification and became known as the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), dropping the G representing Guiné (the Portuguese designation for Guinea-Bissau). Diplomatic relations with Guinea-Bissau, severed at the time of the coup, were resumed in June 1982.
After 15 years of single-party rule by the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), dissidents agitated to legalize an opposition party in 1990. A hastily assembled opposition coalition, the Movement for Democracy (MpD), won the 13 January 1991 parliamentary elections with 68% of the votes and 56 out of 79 seats in the National Assembly. In February, an independent candidate, Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, defeated the incumbent, Aristides Pereira, for the presidency with 72.6% of the vote. The governmental transition went smoothly and without violence. President Mascarenhas cooperated with the prime minister, Dr. Carlos Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga, and his party (MpD), who formed the government.
In 1992, the new constitution came into force, and the government began to privatize state-run industries. In 1994, during an MpD party conference, two leading politicians split with the party and formed the Party for Democratic Convergence (PCD). Legislative elections were again held in 1995, with the MpD winning 50 of the 72 seats (the assembly had been shrunk since the 1991 balloting). The PAICV won 21 seats and the PCD won one seat. On 18 February 1996, Monteiro was reelected to the presidency, and Veiga retained his post as prime minister.
On 11 and 25 February 2001, Pedro Pires (PAICV) was elected president, and inaugurated on 22 March 2001. Since 1 February 2001, Jose Maria Pereira Neves has served as prime minister. Pires was elected president with 49.43% of the vote to 49.42% of the vote for Carlos Viega of the MPD. The election was won by only twelve votes, but the results stood.