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Madrid rejects Mexico’s demand for an apology over Spanish conquest

The Mexican president has sent a letter to King Felipe VI arguing that saying sorry is the only way to achieve complete reconciliation between both countries

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Mexico
The Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador during one of his morning conferences. EFE

Spain has rejected a diplomatic request by Mexico, whose president is demanding an apology for the abuses he said were committed by Spanish conquistadores 500 years ago.

Mexico’s leftist leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the National Regeneration Movement, recently sent a letter to the king of Spain, Felipe VI, urging him to acknowledge these abuses and to ask for forgiveness so there can be full reconciliation between both countries.

The arrival of Spaniards to present-day Mexican territory cannot be judged in light of contemporary considerations

Spanish government

In a release, the Spanish government said that it “firmly rejects” the arguments contained in the letter, which was sent to the monarch via the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“We emphatically reject its contents,” said the Spanish government in a statement after EL PAÍS reported on the letter, which is dated March 1.

“The arrival of Spaniards 500 years ago to present-day Mexican territory cannot be judged in light of contemporary considerations. Our brother nations have always known how to read our common past without anger and with a constructive perspective,” said the Spanish government in its statement.

The government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), said it remains “ready to work together with the government of Mexico and continue building the appropriate framework to intensify the existing ties of friendship and cooperation between our two countries, which allow us to face our future challenges with a shared vision.”

Conquest of Mexico

The move comes on the 500th anniversary of the arrival in modern-day Mexico of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, and two months after Pedro Sánchez paid an official visit to the  country.

A painting at the Prado Museum depicting Cuauhtémoc made prisoner by Hernán Cortés.
A painting at the Prado Museum depicting Cuauhtémoc made prisoner by Hernán Cortés.

López Obrador said that he has sent a similar letter to Pope Francis in Rome. In a video shared on his Twitter account, the Mexican leader said he has asked the head of the Catholic Church for an apology “for violations of what are today known as human rights: there were killings, impositions... the so-called Conquest was waged with the sword and the cross.”

The year 2021 will mark the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, and the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence.

The conquest of Mexico began in 1519, when Hernán Cortés arrived in modern-day Veracruz state with around 500 men, triggering a series of events that ended with a victory for the Spanish. López Obrador, who assumed office in December 2018, says that nothing can be truly commemorated until reconciliation takes place.

Sources said that the apology is not requested for the conquest itself, but for the crimes against the indigenous populations. The contents of the letter, according to Mexican sources, allude to Spain’s earlier moves to offer historical reparation to Sephardic Jews, and to Spain’s experience with historical-memory issues.

Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, the Mexican president’s wife, reportedly played a decisive role in the wording of the letter. López Obrador has appointed her to the position of coordinator of the Honorary Advisory Council of Mexico’s Historical and Cultural Memory initiative.

Sources in the Mexican government insisted that the request was not motivated by rancor and that the idea of a reconciliation process had already been discussed during the Spanish prime minister’s trip to Mexico in late January.

These same sources noted that Mexico is not seeking any financial redress, and that the country is willing to bring the same critical attitude to the excesses committed by indigenous groups. “I will [apologize] too because after the colony, what happened with the extermination of the Yaquis or the Maya was terrible,” says López Obrador in the video.

These same sources said that the Mexican government is irritated by the fact that Spain is apparently not reflecting on the events of 500 years ago. “It is something that cannot be avoided,” said one source.

The Spanish government has not organized any events to observe the 500th anniversary of Cortés’ arrival in modern-day Mexico. At a recent meeting with the press, Culture Minister José Guirao admitted that Cortés is not viewed in a very friendly light in Mexico, and argued that the previous Popular Party (PP) administration failed to allocate any funds for anniversary celebrations.

Instead, the government of Pedro Sánchez has focused on observing a much less controversial date: the 80th anniversary of the arrival in Mexico of Spain’s republican diaspora following the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

English version by Susana Urra.

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