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EL ESPECTADOR

Mexico's President, A Spanish King And The Problem With Apologies

Andrés Manuel López Obrador missed the mark when he called on Spain to apologize for its centuries-old conquest of Mexico.

Spanish President Pedro Sanchez with Mexican President Manuel Lopez Obrador during a visit in Mexico
Spanish President Pedro Sanchez with Mexican President Manuel Lopez Obrador during a visit in Mexico
Mauricio Botero Caicedo

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁMexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) recently wrote to Spanish King Philip VI demanding an apology for abuses committed during Spain's 16th-century conquest of Mexico. AMLO has called for making 2021 — the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec empire — the year of the "Great Reconciliation," but says there can be no commemoration without a prior conciliation.

The Spanish government responded with a letter of its own, saying it "deeply regrets' and "firmly rejects' the Mexican leader's propositions.

Afterward, people came down on AMLO like a ton of bricks. "He addressed a letter to the wrong person," said Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. "He should have sent it to himself and should answer why Mexico, which was incorporated into the Western world 500 years ago and has been fully sovereign as an independent country for the past 200 years, still has so many millions of indigenous people living in conditions of marginality, poverty, and exploitation."

The Spanish novelist and journalist Arturo Pérez Reverte was even blunter. "He, with his Spanish surnames, should be the one apologizing," he said of President López Obrador. "If he really believes what he's saying, he's an idiot. If not, he is shameless." Pérez Reverte said he was sick of Spanish history becoming the "target of demagogues, opportunists, and rogues." Like all national histories, it has "bright and dark spots," the writer added. "It seems like it is a contest to see who can spit harder and further."

Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conquistador who led the expedition that led to the fall of the Aztec empire — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Another amusing reply came from a Spanish humorist. "The Italians have said they would apologize to Spain over Viriathus (the Lusitanian prince murdered amid Roman intrigue in the 2nd century BC) once the Germans apologize to them for Odoacer, the Ostrogothic king who ended the Western Roman Empire," he wrote. "The Germans are fine with that, provided Mongolia first apologizes for Attila the Hun's invasion, and the Mongols, so peaceful today, will happily oblige once the Chinese seek their pardon for all they have done to them."

The humorist went on to say that China sees no problem with admitting to its dastardly acts during several thousand years of imperial rule, provided Great Britain recognizes it went far too far in going all the way to China to do mischief. Britain, of course, would be okay with that, he explained, but only assuming that Italy first apologizes for Julius Caesar's impertinence in his day... And so on and so forth.

The writer concluded by giving AMLO some advice: "Stop making a fool of yourself and, considering your surname, apologize to the Mexicans. Some of those decapitating Aztecs might even have been your ancestors! Though come to think of it, the Aztecs should perhaps first apologize to the descendants of the Tlaxcalans who are surely irked when they recall the Aztecs occasionally ate their ancestors."

That's the problem with demanding apologies: One knows where to start, but where does it end? This is something our own native peoples should consider as they protest against the government in Bogotá. And that brings something else to mind: a new book* that begins with the words "The sun of peace is finally shining in Colombia's sky. May its light brighten the entire world!" The question is: Where should booksellers place it? In the fiction section? Or maybe on the black humor shelf?

*The book in question was written by former president Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) who uttered those same words upon receiving a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

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