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The implications of the coup in Honduras on Afro-descendants

July 20, 2009

by TransAfrica Forum

The National Black Organization of Honduras marches against the coup.
The National Black Organization of Honduras marches against the coup.
Currently, the country of Honduras in Central America is experiencing its worst political crisis in decades. In the aftermath of the military coup that forcibly removed President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, there have been various developments that have raised our concern about the security of citizens’rights and the impact of the situation on people of African descent.

The day after the military coup, Enrique Ortez Colindres was appointed foreign minister by the de facto authorities, replacing exiled minister Patricia Rodas. Since then, Ortez Colindres has made a series of degrading statements about U.S. President Barack Obama and Afro-descendants in general, including repeatedly using the term “negrito” and “negrito del batey” which translate into “little Black boy” and “little Black sugar plantation worker,” respectively. The term “negrito” is a universally degrading and racist term used to refer to people of African descent in Latin America and synonymous with the English equivalent “nigger.”

These recent remarks elicited public outrage from the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, and Ortez Colindres recently resigned his post. Comments such as these have no place in our societies today and should elicit swift outrage and action well before they travel beyond domestic borders.

The Afro-Honduran NGO ODECO (Organization of Ethnic Community Development), a member of ONECA (Central American Black Organization), has submitted a formal complaint against Ortez Colindres to Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí Ávila, reminding the state that his comments are contrary to their country’s anti-discrimination laws and policies.

ODECO President Celeo Alvarez Casildo writes in the complaint: “The unfortunate and disrespectful statements made by ‘Chancellor’Ortez Colindres are a real insult to humanity, especially to the Afro-descendant people he is calling ‘negritos.’ If the ‘chancellor’ dares to call the president of the first world power a ‘negrito,’ what treatment should be expected for the poor, Afro-Honduran on the ground?

A Black Honduran woman shakes her fist at riot police protecting the coup government July 15.
A Black Honduran woman shakes her fist at riot police protecting the coup government July 15.
“As you know,” the complaint continues, “the scourge of racism and discrimination has no territorial, ethnic, racial or religious boundaries. It is a flagrant violation of the Constitution of the Republic, which, in Article 60, guarantees equal rights before the law and prohibits privileged classes and all forms of discrimination.

“The crime of racism and racial discrimination is punishable under Penal Code Article 321, which states the following: ‘They will be punished with three to five years of imprisonment and a fine of 30 thousand to 50 thousand lempiras, those who discriminate against another person because of sex, race, age, class, religion or political party, including adolescents with disabilities and any other harm caused against human dignity. If the person responsible is a foreigner, he will be deported from the country once the sentence is complete.’”

We have also been informed that the life of Dr. Luther Castillo, an Afro-Honduran Garifuna physician in Honduras, is in imminent danger and that the Honduran army has orders to capture Dr. Castillo and, if he resists, to shoot him. Dr. Castillo had been reporting on continued demonstrations demanding the return of elected President Manuel Zelaya, despite security forces’ repression.

Since 1999, he has directed the Luaga Hatuadi Waduheñu Foundation (“For the Health of our People” in Garifuna), dedicated to bringing vital health services to isolated indigenous coastal communities. Castillo is included on a list of persons whose lives and personal integrity were declared “at risk” after the military coup by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Afro-Honduran organizations are also concerned about the potentially negative impact that this unfortunate political situation will have on the wellbeing of their communities, not only with regards to the basic human rights and physical integrity of leaders like Dr. Castillo, but also with regards to the rights to their ancestral lands, political participation and access to employment.

Black Hondurans are playing a major role in resisting the coup.
Black Hondurans are playing a major role in resisting the coup.
The Afro-Honduran community is one of the most vulnerable communities in the region, and it is likely to be disproportionately affected by the consequences of this situation. An assembly of Afro-Honduran organizations is currently taking place in La Ceiba, Honduras. The assembly will produce a declaration analyzing the impact of the situation and the path forward to deal with the aftermath.

We are aware that, as a result of Congressional concerns for the Human Rights situation in Honduras, the curfews were lifted over the weekend of July 11-12. It is critical, however, that the United States work with our neighbors and the global community to support the citizens of Honduras in their demand that President Manuel Zelaya be restored immediately to his constitutionally elected post and authority as president of Honduras. Democratic rule and civil liberties must be restored.

In a statement titled “We Condemn the Honduran Coup,” ODECO writes: “We strongly condemn the coup against the government of the Republic, making use of the armed forces to achieve these purposes, which today keep Honduras as a ‘semblance of a republic’ in front of the international community. This non-diplomatic process prioritizes the interests of the oligarchy petrified in power and calls into question the guarantees of the operation of a real participatory and inclusive democracy, where very few can actually aspire to their greatest desires of collective wellbeing and prosperity, giving priority to respect for laws and for human beings as the solid foundations to transform the deplorable conditions in which the immense majority of the excluded and impoverished in the country find themselves.”

TransAfrica Forum is the leading U.S. advocacy organization for Africa and the African Diaspora in U.S. foreign policy. TransAfrica Forum helped lead the world protest against apartheid in South Africa and today works for human and economic justice for African people on the continent of Africa, in Latin America and in the Caribbean. For more information, visit www.transafricaforum.org. English translation for this story was provided by TransAfrica Forum.

8 thoughts on “The implications of the coup in Honduras on Afro-descendants

  1. patricia

    First of all, let me teach you some Spanish here: the term negro means black in Spanish, as the black color is said negro too. We don’t have expressions like African Honduran in Honduras like you have in the US for African American. In Honduras you say respectfully “persona de color or negra” to refer to a black person. You can find that offensive in the US but not in Honduras. I agree about the infortunate comment the foreig minister made abou President Obama, nobody should refer to someone by the color of skin. Negrito by the way is a diminute word for negro, that I repeat is not a slur in Honduras as is in the US, even thoug means black, nothing else. The offense here was to say that president Obama did not know anything about Honduras (he probably does not know much anyway) as many Americans do not even know where Honduras is located geographically.
    In conclusion, do not treat Hondurans as you treat Americans. I have been living in the US legally for almost 10 years and you have a serious racial issue in this country. Don’t treat this issue as Honduran. We do not discriminate people there.
    Thank you

    Reply
  2. John Mosier

    Whoever is wiriting this piece does not come from Central AMerica. My Honduran daughter, of Central American Indian blood lines is adopted> I am a very blonde, white skinned, caucasion. I was alwaiys referred to by many Hondurans who I was close to as El Gringo. The kids in the community where my workerds were from kbnew mw as “El Gringo” and there was no animosity nor double meaning to it. I am from the USA. Anyone with light skin from Europe, the hills of Honduras, or Canada is called Gringo! I means nothing there. The same is true with a person with dark skin. The writing above is purposely incendiary and the person writing does not know local customs. My daughter with the beautiful bronze skin was known among her friends as La Negra. A person may affectionately be called La Gorda (feminine for fat) or Gordo (Masculine for FAT), or Flaca (SKINNY) whether he or she is fat or not. It is a term of endearment and affection. Top refer to Obama IN HONDURAS is not necessarily an insult. Babies are called by those names.

    Only a person ignorant of the nuances of the language, the culture, the inflection and the manner in which it was delivered, would turn this into a racially negative statement.

    In Spanish, NEGRO means BLACK.

    Americans who have never been out odf their back yard tend to see the world and think that the world is in agreement with the vioews and sights of the USA at home. Any credible journalist would have discovered this before writing this story unless he/she (also not done in Spanish or in Honduras or in Latin America) had written this purposefully incendiary column.

    John

    Reply
  3. Roberto García

    I am from Honduras myself, and I mean what this guy has said it is shamefull for every decent Honduran. He knows very well how he has ment it. I am agree, in Honduras you can call anybody negro or negra in a sympatic way, that depends on the tone you say that; but it is not the way that swine has said, refering to one of the most influential political figures of our world, President Obama. All decent people in the world has not only to condemn this action, but to condemn this fascist coup.

    Reply
  4. Michael

    patricia and john let me teach you some afrikan history. many afrikan people have never excepted the term negro whether it is said in spanish or english. The portuguese used this word early when they encountered afrikan people, it was not a term of endearment, i will suggested a book that might shed light on your position that afrikan people in honduras find the term negrito pleasing and are happy when it is used. Neither Enemies nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos. My wife resides in San Pedro Sula Honduras, i have travel there and other parts of honduras frequently, as throughout the western world afrikan people are treated as second class peoples and are marginalized.

    Reply
  5. Powwah

    Thank you Michael I am a world traveler and African historian ,your comments are true and correct, I have seen honduras for myself and the condition of the people of color are the same condition all over the diaspora.

    Reply
  6. selvin

    este es una estupides todos sabemos lo que significa negrito en america central,los negros como siempre quejandose de descriminacion en todos lados,sepan que si ellos viven en situaciones deplorables es porque ellos quieren vivir en cegregacion racial,en estados unidos el racismo existe y yo como hondureño lo he vivido en carne propia,asi que dejen de venir a darselas de victimas,

    Reply
  7. Catracho100%

    I’m a Honduran mestizo living in USA. I would never dare say that in Hondurans there is no descrimination towards blacks, first because I’m not black. I believe that only a black Honduran can answer that question. All I can tell you is that while I lived there, I saw black-Hondurans as fellow country men/brothers, and I still do. I must also remind black-Hondurans that Honduras is not the USA, where whites enjoy most of the wealth…My family and I suffered too, there where many days were we had no food on the table, and that’s why we left the country. 70% of the population live in extreme poverty, we all suffer together and just like you, I have recentment towads the 10% elite that holds all the wealth, which are the same skin color as mine! Saludos!

    Reply

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