In a formal letter, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked King Felipe VI of Spain to repent for the “crimes and vexations committed against natives” during Spanish colonization.
Delivered to Pope Francis as well, the message urged both parties to recognize abuses committed around 500 years ago. Last week, López Obrador published a video on social media from the Mayan ruins of Comalcalco, Tabasco, confirming the correspondence.
“I sent a letter to the King of Spain and another letter to the Pope to take account of the grievances and apologize to the indigenous peoples for the violations of what is now known as human rights,” said the president. “There were massacres, impositions – the so-called Conquest was made with the sword and cross.”
In a terse response, Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement acknowledging the manuscript’s arrival but “firmly rejected” its contents. Officials stressed a willingness to work with Mexico to build a framework for cooperation but regretted that this proposal went public.
“The arrival of the Spaniards 500 years ago to present-day Mexican lands cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” said the press release. “Our brotherly peoples have always known how to read our shared past without anger and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a common inheritance.”
But before reconciliation comes forgiveness, according to López Obrador.
“It’s time to say let’s reconcile, but first ask for forgiveness.”
Many social media users from Mexico criticized their head of state. One tweet mocked López Obrador’s diplomacy with a meme depicting a conquistador (superimposed over an original photo of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman) getting manhandled by a Mexican SWAT team. The caption read, “BreakingNews – authorities detain Hernán Cortez is in Mexico City’s airport; he didn’t apologize.”
Others seemed to give López Obrador the benefit of the doubt, going as far as to shine a light on controversies surrounding the Spanish monarchy.
“I believe it’s a matter of communication,” said Jesús López González, a social worker in Guadalajara who is originally from Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. “What’s strange isn’t that López Obrador asked for it; what’s strange is that in Spain we have a king who installed [the dictator] Francisco Franco and is illegitimate. AMLO isn’t asking for something extraordinary, it’s just a form of political communication.”
The controversy comes before the upcoming 500-year anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlán, as well as 200 years after Mexico achieved independence in 2021.
When López Obrador assumed office in January, his wife Beatriz Gutiérrez met with Spain’s Minister of Justice Dolores Delgado to express how an apology over the legacy of violence and destruction might improve foreign relations between the two countries.
The first lady suggested a “meeting of two worlds” similar to the Iberoamerican Summit. She said that would be the best moment to change Mexico’s perception of Spain since many nationals harbor resentment.