For the President of Cape Verde, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, 70, more unequal and asymmetrical societies – such as those emerging with the coronavirus pandemic – are becoming fertile ground for the extension of authoritarianism.
Shortly before receiving a badge of merit from the Zumbi dos Palmares University, in São Paulo, on Saturday (31), he spoke of the Brazilian and Cape Verdean similarities, the desire to strengthen partnerships and democracy, a theme in which Cape Verde is well situated. —And better than Brazil— in international comparisons.
For the head of state of the archipelago of about 590,000 inhabitants, disbelief in representative democracy and the proliferation of authoritarian theories can be compared to “charming sirens”, which sing an easy speech of justice and justice. defense of order. “There is a speech that can be charming, but if it were put into practice we would lose freedom and democracy.”
Author of more than 20 books of fiction and law – his area of expertise – Carlos Fonseca will soon leave the presidency of Cape Verde, which he has held since 2011. The African country, made up of ten islands in the Atlantic Ocean , has elections scheduled for October, and the Constitution prohibits more than two consecutive terms.
Cape Verde still appears well placed in the rankings that measure democracy. What do you think this is due and what are the challenges ahead? We have a democracy which is naturally not perfect. Democracy is still an unfinished process. But we have succeeded in building a benchmark democracy in Africa in Cape Verde. Cape Verde has been ranked several times among the 20 or 30 democracies in the world and the 1st or 2nd in Africa. We are also at the top of the press freedom ranking. It is therefore no accident.
We are a country with perfect political stability. Since the establishment of democracy in 1991, we have never experienced a major political crisis or early national elections. All governments have five-year terms. Cape Verdeans have internalized democratic values, believe in democracy and understand that this is the best political system of government in Cape Verde.
We are a nation forged from parts of the world: the result of the slave society, but also the presence of Portuguese settlers. A process that included domination, pain and suffering, but also the need for exchange, for dialogue. A specific entity was built in Cape Verde, which is Cape Verde. And also because it is a country that has always been forced to have resilience and overcome difficulties, such as access to water and cyclical droughts.
I think it is a country with social, cultural and human conditions for democratic values to penetrate and take root. Democracy implies exchange, tolerance, sharing. And this has found fertile ground in Cape Verde.
I made a controversial statement: that the democratic process in Cape Verde is irreversible. It seems to me that after having conquered democracy in the 1990s, it is not possible to go back to the past. If there is the temptation to return, the Cape Verdeans will know how to fight and fight for democracy to prevail.
How did the meeting with President Jair Bolsonaro go? It was the first official visit to Brazil that I made in almost ten years as President of the Republic, which has political importance for us. Mainly because it is a visit which initially would be for work, private. In the interest of the Brazilian authorities, it became an official visit. All I needed was Brazil so that I could officially go to the Portuguese-speaking countries.
We talked about the state of cooperation relations between Cape Verde and Brazil and future expectations. I ended the meeting by saying that cooperation relations with Brazil are good at the level of political, diplomatic and human relations. The historical and cultural affinities between the two countries justify a deepening and widening of cooperation in other fields, such as business and economy.
Brazil accounts for 3% of Cape Verde’s imports, and the country imports over 90% of what it consumes. What should be done to increase Brazilian participation? There must be more mutual knowledge, an easier circulation hypothesis. This is why we are fighting for the mobility convention which was signed at the CPLP [Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa]. Without mobility, cooperation is more difficult. How can Brazilian businessmen know about investment opportunities in Cape Verde if there is no traffic between the two countries?
That is why I am defending that there should be a deepening of political dialogue and exchanges of high-level visits. I invited President Bolsonaro to visit Cape Verde. We have tourism, renewable energies, new technologies and fishing. But Cape Verde can also serve as a platform for Brazil to access larger markets. We have privileged access conditions in markets like ECOWAS [Comunidade de Estados da África Ocidental]. We also participated in the creation of an African free trade area [que entrou em vigor em janeiro]. Brazilian businessmen can not only gain access to the Cape Verdean market, but also gain access to the market of millions of consumers.
But for that, there needs to be a deepening of mutual knowledge and, of course, legal instruments: agreements that avoid double taxation, favor and protect investors. We can do a lot more in terms of cooperation.
At Zumbi dos Palmares, you mentioned the risks for democracy. Brazil, like Cape Verde, has a young democracy. And we have seen speeches that flirt with authoritarianism. How do you see this and what impacts do you think it may have on the international community? My speech was generic, with no country in mind. As a convinced democrat with a path of struggle for democracy and freedom, even in Cape Verde I am making this speech. It is a kind of discourse of prevention against possible temptations or seductions of experiments or authoritarian proposals, of erosion of democracy.
What I am defending is a liberal democracy, which has a parliamentary institutional basis, is representative, with an important role for parliaments, with a sharing of power. I advocate a liberal criminal system. I am not in favor of security-type criminal policies, with very harsh prison systems.
I make this speech to the African Union, to ECOWAS, even if sometimes some heads of state look at me with suspicion. But it is a speech that I must make because I am an activist for democracy, for freedom.
Another thing is relations with other countries. I am aware, even because of my age, that above all a country like Cape Verde, which is small and needs international cooperation, cannot choose partners. The president of Cape Verde cannot identify with presidents based on his political tastes or sympathy.
What interests me is to promote the interests of Cape Verde in diplomatic relations. We defend our principles, our values, but we do not choose the presidents of others. We report to all presidents who are legitimate, democratically chosen.
Regarding pandemics, there is a great inequality in access to vaccination agents, which mainly affects the African continent. What message does this send? This is a fact that has been the subject of debates and resolutions of African bodies. There is always this demand for more justice, equity of resources in the fight against Covid-19 and access to vaccines. We have sought to have a unique and articulate voice so that the international community can look at Africa with new eyes. And this was demanded in the Covax framework, for example. The international community must further support the African community.
Cape Verde has done its part: acquiring vaccines within the framework of Covax, but also in bilateral cooperation. This is why we have obtained an interesting number of doses of vaccines from Portugal, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, China, the USA. Cape Verde currently aims to vaccinate 70% of the eligible population by the end of this year.
We should have already vaccinated 35% of the adult population of Cape Verde [somando vacinados com primeira dose e os completamente imunizados]. In the tourist islands, like Sal, there is intensive vaccination, so it is a safe island from a health point of view and this can stimulate the resumption of tourist flows.
Tourism in Cape Verde represents 25% of the GDP. If we take into account the induced effects, it exceeds 40%. The pandemic has hit Cape Verde hard because it is a small country, with a service economy and supported by tourism. Unemployment has increased. The state must take on more debt to have dismissal, moratorium and credit policies. Therefore, fighting the pandemic is essential for us.
I would also like to talk about literature … I like to talk about it. I have just launched a book in Portugal, “A Grua ea Musa de Mãos Dadas”. It is a literary book, especially of poetry. My sixth literary book and my 23rd book in total, as most of what I published was primarily by law.
Are there influences from Brazilian literature? Yes, I would like to know more and that’s why I wanted to go to a bookstore. When I was young, my taste for literature started with Brazilian literature. My father had a library and at that time he read Érico Veríssimo, João Cabral de Melo Neto, José Lins do Rego, Manuel Bandeira. But I did not and still do not know Brazilian contemporary literature well.
In some passages here, I bought more recent Brazilian poetry. Today I read and like Raduan Nassar very much, but I also like [Carlos] Drummond de Andrade.
This is the so-called mobility problem. If it was 15 years ago, I would go to a Brazilian bookstore and I wouldn’t even find Portuguese literature. He met Fernando Pessoa, Camões and, most recently, José Saramago. But I noticed that I went to a bookstore in Brasilia, three or four years ago, and I have already met new Portuguese authors, like Herberto Helder, Sophia by Mello Breyner. But Cape Verdean, Angolan or Mozambican literature is nowhere to be found. Maybe find Mia Couto. But a great Cape Verdean poet, Arménio Vieira, winner of the Camões Prize, is not known in Brazil, which is a shame.
This idea of creating a common cultural market, of cultural agents and cultural goods, is important for the CPLP itself, because it only establishes itself as a community of peoples if we know each other. Literature is important. The exchange of writers, visual artists, filmmakers, men and women of the theater. It is fundamental, even as a stimulus for our creation.
Jorge Carlos de Almeida Fonseca, 70 years old
Graduated, Master and Doctor of Law from the Faculty of Law of Lisbon (Portugal), he was Secretary General and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cape Verde, as well as Director General of Emigration and Consular Services. Author of over 20 books, the latest being “A Grua ea Musa de Mãos Dadas” (November Editorial). He is the third president of Cape Verde elected by universal suffrage.