This country went on vacation this week for the traditional Easter break while the White House was publicizing a Nicaraguan border raid on anti-Sandinista rebel camps just inside the border as a major threat to the nation's sovereignty.
President Jose Azcona left the capital for the Caribbean resort of Puerto Cortes Tuesday afternoon just hours after his press office confirmed official U.S. reports that the incursion had taken place.
"The government is more interested in going to the beach than in worrying about the Sandinistas," said Juan Lanza, 30, who shines shoes at the central plaza here.
In Nicaragua, the Sandinista government also appeared to have been surprised by the U.S.-initiated publicity over the raid. On Monday, at what appeared to be the height of the incursion, all government offices were closed for the long Holy Week holiday.
Senior government officials were unavailable for comment in Managua until Tuesday afternoon, more than 24 hours after Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams had disclosed the incursion at a Monday morning briefing in Washington.
When Nicaraguan Deputy Defense Minister Joaquin Cuadra showed up Tuesday to deny that the raid had taken place, he was wearing a sport shirt and slacks rather than his usual crisp olive-green uniform. He apparently had rushed back to the capital to meet reporters, as his office had been saying that he was away from the city.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega did not appear publicly until yesterday, when he gave a news conference and strongly implied that Sandinista forces had entered Honduras. He said Honduras had given up its sovereignty over parts of the border area by allowing the contras to have bases there.
The week before Easter is rivaled only by Christmas as a holiday in Central America. Beach vacations are particularly popular now because the dry season is at its height.
Throughout overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Central America, virtually all offices and businesses closed by midday Wednesday and were not to reopen until Monday. Newspapers halted publication for four days, and even most restaurants closed in the capital cities.
The Presidential Palace, Foreign Ministry and other government offices here closed at midday Wednesday while U.S. Army helicopters were transporting hundreds of Honduran soldiers to the border area. U.S. correspondents called Honduran officials' homes in search of comment on the "crisis," but the great majority of phones were not answered.
Even the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest organization of the anti-Sandinista rebels known as contras or counterrevolutionaries, had little to say about what the U.S. government was describing as a major contra military victory in repelling the raid. The contras' chief press spokesman, Frank Arana, flew to Miami on Thursday to visit his mother.
Religious observances seemed to draw considerably more attention than the situation on the border. On Thursday, hundreds of Hondurans waited patiently on the grounds of this city's cathedral to kneel briefly in front of a life-sized statue of Jesus. Last night the statue was paraded through the streets while a band played somber music in the traditional Good Friday procession.
The religious and holiday atmosphere here highlighted the sharp contrast between Tegucigalpa's and Washington's views of the Nicaraguan attack. The Hondurans seemed willing to ignore the incursion until the U.S. government pressed them to make an issue of it.
This city's narrow downtown streets, which usually are crowded with pedestrians and traffic jams, were only half filled today. Most passers-by wore cheap cotton clothing and worn-out shoes, an indication that few wealthy or middle-class people were around.
"They've gone to Tela and La Ceiba," two resorts, Rigoberto Soravia, 29, a beggar, said.
Soravia and 14 other Hondurans, speaking in brief, informal interviews, expressed concern that tensions with Nicaragua might lead to war. But they were much more concerned about unemployment and high prices, and all of them said that Honduras should expel the contras from its territory.
"They the contras don't do anything. They just sit on the border. They shoot three times in the air and then run away," Hernan Mejia, 54, a lottery ticket salesman, said.