Spanish colonial history: sorry, why?

That’s all the Spanish nationalists needed. Mexican president demands apology for colonial history.

The Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan on an engraving by Trichon Photo: imago/Leemage

In a video posted on social media, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador calls on Spain and the Vatican to apologize for forcibly colonizing the former land of the Aztecs and Mayans nearly 500 years ago. Lopez Obrador had himself filmed symbolically in front of Mayan ruins. "The so-called conquest was done with the sword and the cross," explained the leftist politician, who has sent a letter to Spain’s King Felipe VI and Pope Francis.

The Spanish conquerors killed indigenous people, he said. He called for the 500th anniversary. In 2021, the Mexican government will mark the 50th anniversary of the conquest of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan with a "historic reconciliation. In Mexico, some 4 million indigenous people are said to have died in the first years of the conquest. The Spanish government under Socialist Pedro Sanchez nevertheless sees no reason for an apology. It rejects the request in King’s stead "with all firmness," saying what happened then cannot be "judged by today’s standards." The response says: "Our brother nations have always known how to read our common history without anger and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a common heritage and an extraordinary projection."

The opposition goes further. "The letter is an insult to the Spanish people that cannot be tolerated. This is how populism operates: by falsifying history and seeking confrontation," rails the leader of the right-wing liberal Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera. For the leader of the far-right Vox, Santiago Abascal, "Lopez Obrador is infected by indigenous socialism."

"Let him who has Spanish surnames and lives there apologize," demands well-known writer Arturo Perez Reverte of Lopez Obrador, whose grandfather once emigrated to Mexico from northern Spain. "If this individual really believes what he says, he is a fool. If he doesn’t believe it, he is an impudent boor," the statement continued.

500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan.

In Spain, there is an election campaign. And thanks to the Catalonia conflict, the red-yellow-red flags are flying high. That a Latin American left-wing politician, of all people, should come and give lessons is a found topic. That’s because Vox, Cuidadanos and opposition leader Pablo Casado’s Partido Popular are fighting over who will best defend Spain.

"Hispanicity is celebrating the most important milestone of humanity. Never before has it managed to bring culture, history and religion to so many places at once," Casado declared back on Oct. 12 of last year, the anniversary of the "discovery of the Americas." Today, this Spanish national holiday is called "Hispanic Day"; under the dictatorship of General Franco, it was "Race Day."

Spain has never been critical of its own history of colonialism

In 2021, Mexico commemorates not only the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlan, but also 200 years of independence from Spain. The relationship with Mexico has been something of a love-hate relationship ever since. The right has always viewed the republic with suspicion. For the left, the North American country was a role model for a long time. When the Spanish Civil War ended with the victory of the fascists and a dictatorship, many went into exile in Mexico. Today, Mexico is one of the most important trading partners; there is no major company that is not active there.

Spain has never been critical of its own colonial history. The press observes with amazement how, for example, the government in neighboring France is facing up, albeit hesitantly, to responsibility for the atrocities in North Africa.

"Demanding an apology from a head of state for acts committed 500 years ago (…) is inappropriate and anachronistic," El PaIs quotes Carlos MartInez Shaw, a university professor and member of the Spanish Academy of History. However, the holding company of Spain’s largest daily newspaper itself has economic interests in Mexico.

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