Sunday, May 04, 2008

Slaves, Victualling, and Tourism

Eking a living out of these dry islands has never been easy: with no rain and no natural resources, existence has often been precarious in Cape Verde. Still, there were certain points in Cape Verde’s history when it did make economic sense for people to live here. In the 16th century, the lucrative slave trade along the Guinea coast turned these islands into an important trading center. Slavers who wanted to avoid the dangerous coast could pay a higher price for pre-selected, baptized slaves here.
Years after the decline of slavery, the coal-powered transatlantic shipping of the 19th century made Sao Vicente’s natural port an important victualling station. Its deep, calm harbor, halfway between Europe and South America, was an ideal spot to stop for provisions.
When steam, and later airplanes replaced coal on the world stage, it seemed Cape Verde had again lost its financial base. But in reality, a new era of industry was emerging with tremendous economic potential. Mussolini built an airport on Sal in 1939, for better access to Latin America. It returned to Portuguese hands in 1945, but a powerful phenomenon was underway.
Thanks to the airport, Sal became the major refueling point for South African Airlines, which was barred from most African countries, in protest of its apartheid regime. To lodge SAA staff, Georges Vynckier, a Belgian businessman, built the “Pousada Morabeza”, a small guest in 1967. Europeans began visiting and discovered the endless, white beaches of Sal, more lodgings were built to accommodate them, and the tourism industry began in earnest.
Hotels, condos, resorts and golf courses continue to sprout up on Sal today, but this promising industry—which registered 11.7% growth in 2007--is spreading to other islands as well. Boavista now draws some of Sal’s devoted beach-lovers, while hikers marvel at the stunning topography on Fogo and Santo Antao. The music scene and colonial history draw others to Praia and Sao Vicente. If carefully managed, tourism may herald an era of unprecedented prosperity for these infertile, windswept islands.


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