The rivers of Guinea and the islands of Cape Verde were among the first
areas in Africa explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Portugal
claimed Portuguese Guinea in 1446, but few trading posts were established
before 1600. In 1630, a "captaincy-general" of Portuguese Guinea was established
to administer the territory. With the cooperation of some local tribes,
the Portuguese entered the slave trade and exported large numbers of Africans
to the Western Hemisphere via the Cape Verde Islands. Cacheu became one
of the major slave centers, and a small fort still stands in the town.
The slave trade declined in the 19th century, and Bissau, originally founded
as a military and slave-trading center in 1765, grew to become the major
Portuguese conquest and consolidation of the interior did not begin
until the latter half of the 19th century. Portugal lost part of Guinea
to French West Africa, including the center of earlier Portuguese commercial
interest, the Casamance River region. A dispute with Great Britain over
the island of Bolama was settled in Portugal's favor with the involvement
of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.
Before World War I, Portuguese forces, with some assistance from the
Muslim population, subdued animist tribes and eventually established the
territory's borders. The interior of Portuguese Guinea was brought under
control after more than 30 years of fighting; final subjugation of the
Bijagos Islands did not occur until 1936. The administrative capital was
moved from Bolama to Bissau in 1941, and in 1952, by constitutional amendment,
the colony of Portuguese Guinea became an overseas province of Portugal.
In 1956, Amilcar Cabral and Raphael Barbosa organized the African Party
for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) clandestinely. The
PAIGC moved its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea, in 1960 and started an
armed rebellion against the Portuguese in 1961. Despite the presence of
Portuguese troops, which grew to more than 35,000, the PAIGC steadily expanded
its influence until, by 1968, it controlled most of the country.
It established civilian rule in the territory under its control and
held elections for a National Assembly. Portuguese forces and civilians
increasingly were confined to their garrisons and larger towns. The Portuguese
Governor and Commander in Chief from 1968 to 1973, Gen. Antonio de Spinola,
returned to Portugal and led the movement that brought democracy to Portugal
and independence for its colonies.
Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in Conakry in 1973, and party leadership
fell to Aristides Pereira, who later became the first President of the
Republic of Cape Verde. The PAIGC National Assembly met at Boe in the southeastern
region and declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 24,
1973. Following Portugal's April 1974 revolution, it granted independence
to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974. The United States recognized the
new nation that day. Luis Cabral, Amilcar Cabral's half-brother, became
President of Guinea-Bissau. In late 1980, the government was overthrown
in a relatively bloodless coup led by Prime Minister and former armed forces
commander Joao Bernardo Vieira.
From November 1980 to May 1984, power was held by a provisional government
responsible to a Revolutionary Council headed by President Joao Bernardo
Vieira. In 1984, the council was dissolved, and the National Popular Assembly
(ANP) was reconstituted. The single-party assembly approved a new constitution,
elected President Vieira to a new 5-year term, and elected a Council of
State, which was the executive agent of the ANP. Under this system, the
president presided over the Council of State and served as head of state
and government. The president also was head of the PAIGC and commander
in chief of the armed forces.
There were alleged coup plots against the Vieira government in 1983,
1985, and 1993. In 1986, first Vice President Paulo Correia and five others
were executed for treason following a lengthy trial. In 1994, the country's
first multi-party legislative and presidential elections were held. An
army uprising against the Vieira government in June 1998 triggered a bloody
civil war that created hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. The
President was ousted by a military junta in May 1999. An interim government
turned over power in February 2000 when opposition leader Kumba Yala, founder
of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), took office following two rounds
of transparent presidential elections.
Despite the elections, democracy did not take root in the succeeding
3 years. President Yala neither vetoed nor promulgated the new constitution
that was approved by the National Assembly in April 2001. The resulting
ambiguity undermined the rule of law. Impulsive presidential interventions
in ministerial operations hampered effective governance. On November 14,
2002, the President dismissed the government of Prime Minister Alamara
Nhasse, dissolved the National Assembly, and called for legislative elections.
Two days later, he appointed Prime Minister Mario Pires to lead a caretaker
government controlled by presidential decree. Elections for the National
Assembly were scheduled for April 2003, but later postponed until June
and then October. On September 12, 2003, the President of the National
Elections Commission announced that it would be impossible to hold the
elections on October 12, 2003, as scheduled. The army, led by Chief of
Defense General Verrisimo Correia Seabra, intervened on September 14, 2003.
President Yala announced his "voluntary" resignation and was placed under
house arrest. The government was dissolved and a 25-member Committee for
Restoration of Democracy and Constitutional Order was established. On September
28, 2003 businessman Henrique Rosa was sworn in as President. He had the
support of most political parties and of civil society. Artur Sanha, PRS
President, was sworn in as Prime Minister. On March 28 and 30, 2004, Guinea-Bissau
held legislative elections which international observers deemed acceptably
free and fair.