The situation involving racist comments by Enrique Ortez Colindres, "foreign minister" for the de facto regime sworn in following the June 28 military coup in Honduras, boiled over yesterday when the U.S. ambassador to Honduras expressed his outrage over Ortez' comments. Ortez has called President Barack a "little black man" at least three times in public interviews since the coup. Following the U.S. denunciation yesterday, he apologized on Honduran television and said he had written a letter of apology to President Obama.
A third quote by Ortez Colindres surfaced yesterday, made during an interview with a Honduran television station and cited in El Tiempo newspaper:
"He negociado con maricones, prostitutas, con ñángaras (izquierdistas), negros, blancos. Ese es mi trabajo, yo estudié eso. No tengo prejuicios raciales, me gusta el negrito del batey que está presidiendo los Estados Unidos."
"I have negotiated with queers, prostitutes, leftists, blacks, whites. This is my job, I studied for it. I am not racially prejudiced. I like the little black sugar plantation worker who is president of the United States."
The U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, responded in the strongest possible terms yesterday:
As the official and personal representative of the president of the United States of America, I convey my deep outrage about the unfortunate, disrespectful and racially insensitive comments by Mr. Enrique Ortez Colindres about President Barack Obama.
Statements like this are deeply outrageous for the American people and for me personally. I am shocked by these comments, which I condemn in the strongest terms.
Llorens studiously avoided any recognition of Ortez as foreign minister for the de facto regime, which the United States does not consider a legitimate government.
In other press statements, Ortez Colindres has called President Obama "a little black man who doesn't know where Tegucigalpa is" and "a little black man who doesn't know anything about anything." Hondurans opposed to the de facto regime have posted at least six videos of one of his comments to YouTube:
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.
In his apology, Ortez said the comments were made before he had been officialy sworn in by the leader of the de facto regime, Roberto Micheletti. His comments were made Monday last week, the same day he was sworn in. Ortez said, "In the expression that's been mentioned, I did not intend to be offensive in any way."
While ignored in the U.S. press, his comments caused a firestorm throughout Latin America, where they seemed to confirm a prevailing impression of Honduras as a backwards country ruled by an overbearing elite business class and a corrupt military. The country's president, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a military coup after he angered the powerful Honduran business association COHEP by raising the minimum wage and thumbed his nose at the church by vetoing legislation to ban the morning after pill.
The term negrito del batey refers to immigrant, Haitian sugar plantation workers in the Dominican Republic. Batey is a local word for worker barracks and housing, shown in this Wikipedia photo:
The term was popularized in Latin America thanks to a song, "El Negrito del Batey," written for Dominican merengue artist Joseito Mateo in 1942:
The song is about a sugar plantation worker who would rather go out dancing than work:
A mí me llaman el negrito del batey
Porque el trabajo para mí es un enemigo
El trabajar yo se lo dejo todo al buey
Porque el trabajo lo hizo Dios como castigo.
They call me the black boy from the batey
Because working is my enemy
I leave all working to the ox,
Because God made work as a punishment.