[UPDATE: The Organization of American States has suspended Honduras.]
This afternoon we are awaiting a decision by the OAS on whether to eject Honduras for last Sunday's military coup. The decision will be made after Secretary-General Insulza's fruitless trip to the country yesterday, during which Honduran leaders steadfastly refused to admit a coup had occurred in their country. Ejection of Honduras would cap a week of perhaps the most incompetent diplomatic offensive in history, led by the golpistas' new "foreign minister," a choleric racist named Enrique Ortez Colindres. Last week, he managed to insult El Salvador as a country too small to play football in and referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as "that little black man who doesn't know anything about anything," while implying Obama can't read or write. I expect someone else here will be covering the OAS decision when it's announced, so I'll use this diary just to summarize a few odds and ends that we missed last week.
On the diplomatic front, the week consisted of nothing but bad news for the coup leaders, as one country after another recalled their ambassadors. Recall of the Spanish and French ambassadors was promptly followed by a mass exodus as every country in the European Union finally recalled their diplomats from Honduras in disgust. Mexico and other Latin American countries closed their embassies, while Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua sealed their borders to commercial traffic for 48 hours. The United States, World Bank and Inter-american Development Bank all hit the "pause" button on aid, while Venezuela cancelled petroleum shipments.
Alejandro Alvarez, vice president of the Honduran Council of Private Companies (COHEP), the country's most powerful business association, expressed little concern about the economic measures and said that, in the worst-case scenario involving trade sanctions, COHEP has a contingency plan in place that includes wage cuts and that companies will be able to last six months until the next elections.
While the coup government in Honduras attempted to withdraw from the OAS before it could be kicked out today, the OAS refused to recognize its decision since no country or organization has recognized the new ambassadors it frantically tried to install last week.
Everyone who had come to admire Patricia Rodas, the exiled foreign minister, for her well-spoken, highly educated way of expressing herself, was in for a rude shock on Monday, when the golpistas swore in Enrique Ortez Colindres as foreign minister and he took the microphone. Within a matter of hours, he had insulted Spain, El Salvador and the OAS and made comments about Barack Obama that were widely viewed as racist. The Prensa Grafica, in El Salvador, tartly called Ortez a "jewel of Honduran diplomacy."
Q: Do you think the "gringos," as you call them, would permit an invasion of Honduras promoted by Chavez?
A: They permit anything. The United States is no longer a defender of democracy. In the first place, the president of the republic [the U.S.], with all due respect to the little black man, doesn’t know where Tegucigalpa is. We’re the ones who know where Washington is and we’re the ones who are obliged, as a small country, a democratic pygmy, to clarify the concepts for him and read to him, maybe in his language, what’s going on.
While the epithet negrito, used by Ortez to describe Obama, is sometimes a term of affection for very close friends or family members, it's use in this context by Ortez has been widely criticized in the Latin American press as racist. Here's another example quoted by Clarín newspaper in Argentina:
However, the golpistas made their position clear on Monday, from the mouth of the new "foreign minister," Enrique Ortez Colindres. When, on a popular Honduran tele-journalism program, he was asked about international reaction to the coup, he had no problem saying he gave no importance whatsover to the OAS and "the other little groups up there," asked that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero "go back to his shoes" and said he wouldn't speak of El Salvador, "because it's not worth talking about a country so tiny that you can't play football in it because the ball lands in another country." But he went even further, in describing United States President Barack Obama as "that little black man who doesn't know anything about anything."
[Original: Con todo, los golpistas dejaron en claro su posición el lunes, por boca del nuevo "canciller", Enrique Ortez Colindres. Cuando en un popular programa periodístico de la TV hondureña le preguntaron por las reacciones internacionales frente al golpe de Estado, dijo sin reparos que no le atribuía importancia alguna a la OEA y a "los otros grupitos que andan por ahí", le pidió a José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero que "vuelva a sus zapatos" y aseguró que no iba a hablar de El Salvador "porque no vale la pena hablar de un país tan chiquito, en el que no se puede jugar al fútbol porque la pelota se cae a otro país". Pero fue por más al definir al presidente de los Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, como "ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada".]
The comment about Spain's Zapatero is an allusion to a Spanish saying, "zapatero, a sus zapatos," which translates as "cobbler, stick to your shoes" and means "stay out of things you don't know about."
A Palace Made Entirely of Egg Whites
The intransigence of the golpista leaders and their unwavering, surreal insistence that the military coup occurring last Sunday was not, in fact, a coup, reminds me of a discussion I had with a tour guide some years ago in Honduras. We were standing next to the old Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa, then being renovated, and she was providing a bit of history about it. In the midst of her memorized spiel, she said something very remarkable. "This," she told me proudly, "is the only building in the world made entirely of egg whites." I mean, we were standing right next to a building which was manifestly built of stone and mortar. I thought she might have meant that egg whites were used to prepare the stucco and gently suggested that might be the case. "No," she insisted. "This is the only building in the world made entirely of egg whites." I didn't inquire further, but simply filed the story away in my mind, where it suddenly re-emerged in thinking over the events of the past week.