On June 29, the day he was installed by Honduran coup leaders as the country’s new interim foreign minister, Enrique Ortez Colindres repeatedly used racist slurs to describe U.S. president Barack Obama.
Using the word “negrito,” a well-recognized and profoundly racist epithet, whose literal translation means “little black man” or “little black boy,” Ortez referred to Obama as “that little black boy who knows nothing about nothing” [“ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada”] and “a little black man who doesn’t know where Tegucigalpa is” [“el negrito, no conoce donde queda Tegucigalpa”]. In another case, he told the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo (translation from DailyKos):
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.
For more than a week after they were uttered, Ortez’s slurs were a big story in Latin American and around the world: The Chinese and French wire services Xinhua and Agence France Presse covered them, among others . But besides online sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, the story was mostly ignored by U.S. journalists, who otherwise freely quoted Ortez about Honduras’ coup and constitutional crisis.
That wasnÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢t the case when Hugo Chavez called George W. Bush the devil in an address at the U.N. in 2006. Then the arguably lesser insult was discussed for days in the U.S. media.
Wednesday, July 8, offered big new developments in the story when a U.S. diplomat in Honduras complained about the slurs and Ortez offered a brief apology. Then, later that afternoon, Ortez was fired and replaced by the coup government’s president.
But today, two days later, the New York Times has yet to mention any aspect of the story, and the Washington Post only ran a brief 120-word Associated Press report about the apology (though nothing about the resignation) on July 9–its readers only then learning about the original slights.
And so it would appear that, at least in this case, few U.S. journalists think it’s much of a story when a high-ranking foreign official, otherwise in the news, launches a racist attack, even one that targets the president of the United States.