According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Cabo Verde has been assessed as “Level 1: Exercise normal precautions.”
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Praia does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Praia as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. Government interests.
Please review OSAC’s Cabo Verde-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
Pickpocketing, burglary, and armed robbery are the most common types of crimes encountered by travelers in Praia. Such crimes are typically motivated by financial gain. Criminal activity in Cabo Verde has been fueled, at least in part, by high unemployment and the growing drug trade. Many crimes are perpetrated by groups of youths who are immune from prosecution until they reach 16 years of age.
Official crime statistics for 2017 have not been released by the government of Cabo Verde. Based on 2016 figures, crime increased dramatically. While homicide rates remained relatively stable from 2015 to 2016, other types of crime -- muggings, armed robbery, burglary -- increased significantly. Robbery, burglary, and break-in incidents in which victims were present during their commission doubled in Praia between 2015 and 2016, with 3,430 reported cases combined. Instances of these crimes in which victims were not present also increased rapidly, with 183% growth and 931 cases reported between 2015 and 2016.
Crimes are becoming more violent. Crimes involving firearms had been rare; however, they have been increasing in frequency. Even though special permission is required in order to own/possess a firearm, the availability of firearms has grown. There have been reports of victims of being shot during the commission of crimes.
Some of the more notable criminal incidents in 2017 include:
On May 21, a U.S. Embassy member was attacked, during daylight, while walking on a path. The assailant was armed with a small caliber pistol and brandished it. The victim avoided injury; however, the assailant made off with an Embassy cell phone. A group of nearby runners, including an off-duty police officer, chased down and apprehended the assailant. The cell phone was returned, and the assailant was prosecuted and sentenced to five years in prison.
On February 11, a personal vehicle belonging to a U.S. Embassy member was broken into. A small bag containing emergency vehicle tools/equipment was stolen. The thief was identified, and the bag was recovered.
On February 10, a U.S. Embassy member was attacked, during daylight, while walking home. The assailant tried to steal the victim’s backpack and, when unsuccessful, picked up a piece of a concrete block, threatening the individual. A local police unit observed the incident and intervened.
Additional notable incidents from 2016 include:
On November 8, a U.S. Embassy member was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant, during daylight, while walking on a path. The victim avoided injury and complied with the demand to surrender her cell phone. Afterward, the assailant fled. The attack occurred within 300 yards of several Embassy residences.
On June 28, two U.S. Military ROTC cadets were attacked by three males. The attack occurred during daylight within 200 yards from several Embassy residences in one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Praia. Both cadets sustained numerous scrapes and bruises, and one required medical treatment after being stabbed in the abdomen.
On April 25, Cabo Verde witnessed a shocking and tragic event at the Monte Tchota army barracks. The barracks housed a nine-man detachment assigned with protecting a hilltop communications hub. A rogue soldier killed all eight of his colleagues as they slept. In the morning, he killed three technicians (two Spaniards and one Cabo Verdean) who had shown up to the facility. The soldier gathered additional weapons and ammunition and fled in the technicians’ vehicle. After the discovery of the killings, an intense manhunt ensued. A joint effort between the military, National Police, and Judicial Police led to the assailant’s capture. The soldier was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Other Areas of Concern
In Praia, the Sucupira (outdoor market) and Fazenda areas are especially prone to pickpocketing, muggings, and purse snatchings. Travelers should traverse both areas with great care during the day and avoided at night, especially when alone.
Similar precautions should be taken when visiting the areas surrounding the beach resorts on the islands of Maio, Boa Vista, and Sal.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Roads in Praia are typically in good condition. A fair portion of the roads are paved with asphalt or cobblestones. Streets are narrow in downtown areas, and caution should be used while driving or crossing streets. Motorists are typically courteous, but travelers should exercise caution. Taxis, buses, and private vehicles will regularly stop in the middle of a road without warning. Traffic collisions pose great risks to travelers due to delays in emergency response and limited medical resources to treat traumatic injuries. Motorists should always wear seatbelts, be attentive, and drive defensively.
In areas outside of Praia, roads may not be as developed. The ability to obtain assistance for an accident or breakdown is limited. Excessive speeding and narrow, curving roads pose great dangers outside of Praia.
Roads throughout Cabo Verde are generally poorly illuminated at night. Even those roads with street lights experience regular blackouts.
Although most of the national highways are in good condition; other routes made out of cobblestone or dirt can be extremely dangerous during the rain. In addition, streets will often flood during heavy rainfall, and fast moving water can sweep away vehicles, destroy sections of roads, and even wash out bridges.
In rural areas, livestock are often allowed to roam freely and may stray into roads, making driving hazardous, especially at night when visibility is reduced. Collisions between motorists and livestock happen several times each year.
For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
Praia has three principal modes of public transport: taxi, bus, and commuter vans. Using buses and vans is strongly discouraged. The most common commuter van is a Toyota Hiace; these vans may have a fixed but flexible route and try to operate at full capacity. Often the drivers allow more passengers in the van than is practical or safe.
Taxis are the recommended form of public transport. Licensed, registered taxis are clearly marked and are tan/cream in color.
Inter-island schedules can be unpredictable with frequent delays and even unannounced cancelations.
Other Travel Conditions
The Embassy strong advises against using hillside stairways connecting neighborhoods in Praia. These stairways, although offering convenient shortcuts through hilly terrain, make users isolated and vulnerable to assault, even in broad daylight.
Several islands are connected by ferry service. Maritime transportation schedules can be unpredictable with delays and occasional cancellations. Seas can also be rough, so travelers should be prepared for possible motion sickness.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Praia as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. Government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Given Cabo Verde’s proximity to continental West Africa, potential activity by regional terrorist groups is a concern; however, there are no known indigenous terrorist groups in Cabo Verde. The islands’ nautical location, porous borders, and small coast guard with limited resources could place Cabo Verde at risk of becoming a transit route used by terrorists. There have been no recorded or reported international terrorist incidents in Cabo Verde; yet, local police have monitored groups they believe to have connections or influence with non-friendly organizations. There is also a concern that extremism may be growing in the prison systems in Santiago and Sao Vicente islands.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Praia as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
The government of Cabo Verde is a very stable democracy, characterized by its Portuguese heritage as well as its well-established democratic processes and institutions – including a strong political/judicial framework. Political violence is virtually unknown, and the country has a history of peaceful transitions of power.
Civil unrest and civil disorder are not common, although occasional demonstrations do occur. Such incidents are typically motived by economic rather than political issues, and all have been peaceful. In 2015, there was a slight increase in the number of strikes and work stoppages, largely because of high unemployment rates; these events remain infrequent.
Natural disasters are of some concern. The potential for severe disruptions remains, based on Cabo Verde’s history of flooding, volcanic activity, and low-intensity tectonic tremors.
Flooding from heavy rains adversely affect roads and some low-lying coastal areas:
A volcano, located on Fogo erupted most recently on November 23, 2014, but it had little impact on Embassy operations or personnel. Due to the ash cloud, international flights were diverted from the airport for two weeks. The government of Cabo Verde was not prepared for a full-scale evacuation of the island at the time, had it been necessary.
In August 2016, Brava experienced low-intensity tremors, which resulted in no injuries or damage. As a precaution, the government of Cabo Verde evacuated about 300 residents deemed to be in potential danger had the tremors continued or intensified.
Cabo Verde likely lacks the ability to manage and respond to a large-scale natural disaster. During the November 2014 volcano eruption, air and sea transportation of emergency responders, as well as the evacuation of residents, proved challenging. The government requested assistance and support from foreign countries; Portugal provided air and sea support. Similar concerns regarding Cabo Verde’s response capabilities arose during Hurricane Fred in 2015, as the government struggled to cope with its after-effects in the northern islands. As a result, Cabo Verde’s disaster management and response capabilities likely remain inadequate. Additionally, while there is a Cabo Verdean coast guard, its resources are limited; rescue or assistance to vessels or aircraft at sea would be challenging.
The ability of the government to respond to a major industrial or transportation accident is limited because it has few resources for managing or containing such an event. While emergency services do exist, a large-scale accident would most likely require international support. Resources on the main island and around Praia are limited, and there are even fewer services available on other islands.
Drug trafficking has increased. Drug use and abuse is also on the rise, which has resulted in a corresponding up-tick in street crimes. However, drug abuse is not pervasive enough to cause serious socio-economic problems, and authorities are actively trying to combat drug trafficking and its negative social effects.
Cabo Verde continues to be a gateway for drug cartels to pass illegal drugs from South and Central America to Africa and Europe. Narco-violence is growing and has been linked to the murder of the mother of a federal officer and the attempted murder of the son of a high-ranking government official.
Kidnappings for ransom or political gain are rare. However, two instances of kidnapping did occur in 2017:
On August 11, a Cabo Verdean Catholic priest was kidnapped as he departed the seminary at night. The assailants stole the priest’s vehicle during the abduction and forced the priest to withdraw money from multiples ATMs. The priest was released, relatively unharmed, by midnight; his vehicle was later found abandoned in a distant neighborhood.
On May 2, a local Cabo Verdean was kidnapped outside his home, taken to the interior of the island, shot several times, and died. The kidnapping, which is believed to have been connected to drug trafficking, occurred late at night and within 200 yards of several Embassy residences.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”
Police authorities are generally willing to assist, but their responsiveness is somewhat variable. In most cases of larceny, items are never recovered. Police capacity to assist and respond to crimes are affected by limited resources, and more serious cases are often prioritized. Drug interdiction continues to be a challenge, although local law enforcement are working as best as possible given resource constraints. Coastal security also poses a challenge, as there are only 75 maritime police officers to patrol all the islands. Even though a police presence is visible in Praia and other parts of the country, proactive policing is not as prevalent as in other countries. Generally, police services are reactive and incident-driven. The language abilities of law enforcement personnel beyond Portuguese and Creole is very limited (some may know some French and Spanish), making it difficult for tourists and others to receive timely assistance and report crimes.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
If detained or questioned by the police, cooperate fully with the authorities, as not doing so could prolong detention. Inform authorities of your nationality and request that law enforcement officials contact the U.S. Embassy. If needed, a detained U.S. citizen should contact American Citizen Services for assistance.
Incidents of corruption/bribery are not overt, nor are bribes typically solicited by police. If such an activity occurs, it should be reported immediately. Cabo Verdean officials remain committed to fighting official corruption and punishing abuse of power whenever reported.
Crime Victim Assistance
Of the few U.S. citizens who have been victims of crime, many have required the intervention of the RSO to get an efficient and effective police response. The general police emergency number is 132. The language barrier is of some concern as the American tourist’s presence in Cabo Verde grows.