- You can read the first correspondence of Liberty in Cape Verde here.
by Laurentiu Ungureanu (Praia)
President José Maria Neves, 64 years old, says he understands Romania very well: the mother of his fourth son was a student at the Faculty of Law of the University of Bucharest.
Before starting the interview, the president puts us to the test: In Portuguese, his name, “Jose”, is very common, says the head of state. As is “John” in English. So José Neves wants to know if Iohannis somehow comes from “Ion”, the Romanian correspondent of the international first name. It’s not Iohannis, it would actually be Ionescu, he laughs.
José Maria Neves is the president of Cape Verde from 2021, a position that forced him to make quite a few official visits to other states. Each time, he traveled by commercial airliners, his staff members claim.
Sibiu – Santa Catarina axis
The two presidents who will meet in Praia began their political careers by asserting themselves first at the local level – the Romanian president was the mayor of Sibiu, and the Cape Verdean head of state was the mayor of Santa Catarina, the second largest municipality from Santiago Island. It is the island where the capital of the republic, Praia, is located.
José Maria Neves was the leader of a nationalist youth organization during the country’s transition from Portuguese rule to independence won in 1975. He studied in Brazil, then returned to the small country of 600,000 inhabitants located 500 kilometers from the west coast of Africa. In the years that followed, Neves made a name for himself as a “reformist”, as allies describe him.
His opponents, however, argue that Neves’s policy has authoritarian elements. And that the current president’s popularity benefits from the fact that the Republic of Cabo Verde is one of Africa’s few successful examples, a legacy of decades of balanced and democratic governance by generations of moderate politicians.
Images from the Cape Verde Islands:
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The country where a company can be founded in a day
Before becoming president, José Maria Neves led the Government of Cape Verde in three legislatures, from March 2001 to April 2016. In these 15 years, his state tripled its GDP, doubled its income per capita inhabitant, left the UN list of underdeveloped countries and became a standard of democracy at the level of Africa.
Its governments were known for gender parity, with even more women than men.
Among other things, since leading the Executive, Neves has supported small and medium-sized businesses: in Cape Verde, a company can be registered in a single day.
On October 17, 2021, Jose Maria Neves became the fifth president of Cape Verde, just like his Romanian counterpart in 2014 – if we only count the Romanian leaders who used the title of president: Nicolae Ceauşescu, Ion Iliescu, Emil Constantinescu and Traian Băsescu .
He found out about the interview request on Thursday, I did the interview on Saturday
The leader of the Atlantic archipelago was the proposal for the presidency of the left-wing African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde.
According to his spokesperson, President Neves found out about Libertatea’s invitation for an interview on Thursday, November 16. On Saturday, November 18, one day before the arrival of his Romanian counterpart and while he was still establishing the final details of the reception of the Romanian official, Jose Maria Neves granted the newspaper an extensive interview – “we work with the press and report to journalists with a lot respect”.
The President of Romania has not accepted any invitation to an interview from the press during his nine years in office.
José Maria Neves: “Governing a country is an eminently ethical matter”
– Mr. President, I propose to avoid stereotypes. My questions are not about Africa, but about the world in general. Everyone has problems with states that fail their citizens. Cape Verde has had a stable evolution for decades. What do you think the explanation is?
– I think that governing a country is an eminently ethical matter. Governing a country like Cabo Verde is an ethical matter. And here, from the first moment of its independence, we bet on the dignity of the human being. And for that it was necessary to invest in institutions – inclusive institutions – both political and economic. We invested in education, in health, in social security, in the fight against poverty. And this has enabled the country to deal with matters of people’s lives with much honesty and has also enabled the creation of social, political and economic conditions for social stability, political stability and for the growth of the country.
How does Neves explain democracy? “It’s about differences of opinion”
– You have been a parliamentary, democratic republic for over three decades. How would you explain to a person from any continent why democracy is good for them?
– Societies are pluralistic. There is always a great diversity of ideas, opinions and sensibilities. It is important to put all these ideas in the same space to look for bridges of understanding, of consensus, to build a better future. Democracy, in reality, is about differences of opinion. And the democratic coexistence, the enrichment of different communities allow us to build the stability, inclusive growth and global development of the country.
-What is your relationship with the mass media?
–I can say we have an excellent relationship. One of the main pillars of the democratic rule of law is freedom of the press. The President is making sustained efforts to ensure full freedom of expression in Cabo Verde. In this sense, we work with the press and treat journalists with great respect. Because the president is supposed to be a mediator to make sure people follow the Constitution.
“We want to strengthen relations especially with some Eastern European countries”
– How did you receive the proposal of the Romanian Presidential Administration regarding this visit? Surprised you?
– It was with many expectations and enthusiasm because, in fact, we want to strengthen relations especially with some Eastern European countries: Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia. So, we received with great joy the opportunity to welcome your president and we immediately prepared to do so.
– You yourself, as president, are in a position to make official trips. How important is protocol to you when you travel?
– Cabo Verde does not have the resources for the president to make protocol-only visits (no – the country has a GDP of around two billion euros). Therefore, we need to make impactful visits that bring positive changes to the lives of Cape Verdeans. Here we have to be very realistic and pragmatic. Only in this sense do we develop our relationships. Regarding this visit, even if it is short, I hope it will allow us to strengthen and give a new dynamic to relations with Romania. And on the day when I will be able to visit Romania, I hope it will be a visit that will build new ways of cooperation between the two countries.
“We boast of strong investments in education, health”
– What do you think Romania has to observe from Cape Verde?
– You can see a small country without traditional natural resources that managed to lay the foundations of a long-lasting construction and prove that in Africa development is possible. I think that Romania is a more advanced country than Cabo Verde. But, in our case, you can see the experience of a small country that makes a great effort for its development, mobilizing all its capabilities and experiences in this direction.
Yes, we boast about it, because we make a priority of strong investments in education, in health, in social security, in the country’s infrastructure and in the ideal of a sustainable environment and inclusive growth. Besides, we all learn from each other, so I hope that Cabo Verde also learns from Romania.
“I know that I am obliged to answer. The President must listen and answer to all”
– Mr. President, if 40,000 people from Cape Verde asked you to make public aspects of public interest of your administration, what would you do? I propose an example: if the citizens asked you to know how much you spend on travel.
– Obviously! Whoever exercises the office of president must respond to the questions and demands of the population. This is elementary. The president is elected by the citizens and must respond to their demands. Any kind of requests! It doesn’t have to be 40,000. If only one person asks me for something, I know I have to answer. The president must listen and answer to everyone. Even when the person presenting a request to the president does not agree with him. This is democracy.
– Can you explain to the Romanian public what you think are the most important things they should know about your country?
– Cabo Verde is a small African country in the Atlantic and the Sahel (region in Africa, no), which defends international law, the principles of humanity, respect for the integrity and sovereignty of the state, which is actively engaged in negotiation to resolve the conflict and which wants peace. Moreover, Cabo Verde wants to have a relationship with all people and respect human rights and wants to be useful to the international community in the sense of building a better world for all. Cabo Verde has development ambitions and wants Africa to be a relevant political actor in cooperation with other geo-economic regions of the world.
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“We, here, can build bridges in Africa and Romania can build bridges in Europe”
– How would you describe the relationship between Cape Verde and Romania so far?
– Ever since independence (no. 1975), Cabo Verde has had close relations with Romania. In the beginning, in the early years after our independence, we had nothing here. It was necessary to work especially for the education of human resources, and relations in the field of higher education, science, education were a very important element. Romania, since the beginning, has cooperated with Cabo Verde in the field of education and hundreds of professionals have been trained in your country, in many fields, such as engineering, medicine or law. With the transition to democracy and the changes in Eastern Europe, things have changed. Now, through this visit of your president, we intend to restore these relations.
– How do you see this partnership in the future?
– Fundamentally, given that the world is passing through an extraordinary and complex moment – with geostrategic wars, bloody conflicts, immigration, pandemic – cooperation between countries is crucial. And we need to bring countries closer together. Increasingly more. And to reduce the inequalities between the different geopolitical regions of the world, to bring peace and stability to the world. The cooperation between Cabo Verde and Romania must be done in this way: here, we can build bridges in Africa and Romania can build bridges in Europe. And together we can help each other to develop and achieve peace and stability.
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