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The Implications of the Coup in Honduras on Afro-Descendants,
July 14, 2009
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) [an ONECA member] has submitted a formal complaint against Ortez Colindres to the Attorney General, reminding the State that his comments are contrary to their country’s anti-discrimination laws and policies (See Annex 1).
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. 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 past weekend. 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.
Listed below are links to a number of official statements, news articles, and other documents regarding the coup, the racist remarks by Ortez Colindres, and other concerns regarding discrimination and the human rights situation shared by Afro-Honduran civil society.
Annex 1: Formal Complaint to Attorney General against Enrique Ortez Colindres (ODECO)
Annex 2: We Condemn the Coup (ODECO)
Annex 3: Honduras Briefing (Key Statements and Articles)
The Central American Black Organization (CABO) [known in Spanish as Organización Negra Centroamericana- ONECA] was founded on August 25, 1995 in Belize, with the purpose establishing a cross border organization capable of bringing visibility to and building the social, political, economic, cultural, environmental and organizational capability of Afro-Central American communities. Its mission is to promote the integral development of the Afro-descendant communities from a human rights perspective while seeking unity in diversity, gender equality, ethnicity and race among human beings and to combat racism and discrimination. For more information, visit www.oneca.org.
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.transafricaforu m.org.