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Mexico’s demand for an apology creates political stir in Spain

The Socialist Party, Ciudadanos, Popular Party and Vox have criticized the move from López Obrador, but the left-wing Unidas Podemos group has defended the Mexican president

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Getty

A letter sent to Spain’s King Felipe VI by the president of Mexico, seeking an apology for abuses committed during the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, has triggered numerous political reactions.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Tuesday that he “deeply” laments the request by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and that, “obviously,” Spain is not going to offer such an “extemporaneous apology.”

He is very much right to demand an apology from the king for the abuses of the conquest

Unidas Podemos spokesperson Ione Belarra

“Just like we are not going to ask the French Republic to apologize for what Napoleon’s soldiers did when they invaded Spain. Or like the French are not going to ask the Italians to beg forgiveness for Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul,” he added.

Spanish political parties are divided over the issue. While the right-of-center Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos and far-right party Vox criticized the letter, the leftist group Unidas Podemos defended the request.

Borrell said he had spoken with his Mexican counterpart, and that “we will do everything possible to ensure that relations between our people and governments are not damaged by this unfortunate initiative.”

In a video posted on Twitter, the Mexican president said that the apology should be “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.”

On Tuesday, López Obrador said at a news conference that his intention was to spark a debate on the events of the conquest. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Hernan Cortés’ arrival in modern-day Yucatán.

This is a matter of will and awareness. Regardless of one’s position, this opens up the possibility of a review of our history

Mexican President López Obrador

“We want to see if it is possible to create a joint group to create a narrative of what happened, and from that starting point, with humility, accept our own mistakes, apologize and reach mutual reconciliation,” said the Mexican president.

The leftist leader denied that his letter could risk hurting bilateral relations: “This is a matter of will and awareness. Regardless of one’s position, this opens up the possibility of a review of our history.”

López Obrador said he will not attend the events celebrating the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the city of Veracruz on April 22 unless there is a reconciliation agreement with Spain. “I cannot participate in a celebration as head of the Mexican state until this matter is resolved.”

The Spanish government, headed by the Socialist Party (PSOE), has already issued a statement “firmly rejecting” the request. On Tuesday, the leader of the conservative PP, Pablo Casado, nevertheless criticized the government and the “leftist friend of [PM] Pedro Sánchez.”

“What he [López Obrador] said is a veritable affront to Spain. I will not tolerate it,” said Casado, who will be competing with Sánchez for votes at the upcoming general election of April 28. “I don’t believe in Spain’s black legend. Not in the one that was drafted centuries ago, and not in the one that the complex-ridden left is now trying to draft. We are one of the most important nations in the history of humanity.”

We are one of the most important nations in the history of humanity

Popular Party leader Pablo Casado

Casado also said that “unlike what happened with other empires,” the Spaniards who went to the Americas “ended up having families there” and mixing with the local populations. “Spaniards went there and ended the power of tribes that were murdering their own neighbors cruelly and viciously.”

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said the letter is “an intolerable offense to the Spanish people. That is how populism works: by falsifying history and seeking confrontation.”

Vox leader Santiago Abascal said that “López Obrador, imbued with a sense of indigenist socialism, fails to understand that by asking Spain for reparation he is actually insulting Mexico.”

But Spain’s leftist coalition Unidas Podemos defended the Mexican president. “He is very much right to demand an apology from the king for the abuses of the conquest,” said Ione Belarra, the group’s deputy parliamentary speaker. If Unidas Podemos reaches power, she said, it will start “a process for the recovery of democratic and colonial memory that provides redress to the victims.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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