By RICARDO CASTILLO
On March 6, Pulse News Mexico published an article offering a retrospective on the arrival of Hernán Cortés to Cozumel island. (It was the first incursion of a European army into the American continent with an intent to conquest.) It happened in 1519.
Actually, the intent of that article was to set up an observation point from which to do an objective follow-up on the upcoming arrival of the 500 th anniversary of the conquest of Mexico, which coalesced with a Spanish victory on Aug, 13, 1521, a little over two years after the Cozumel visitation.
In this writer’s mind were the questions: Will there be a celebration? And if so, will it be some sort of remembrance or will the event go unnoticed and forgotten, along with many others? At that moment, less than a month ago, there had been no initiative from the government to do anything on that momentous anniversary.
The second Spanish incursion into Mexico came on March 14, 1519, now known as the Battle of Centla, in which for the first time Cortés and some 500 Spaniards showed a rebellious Maya Chontal tribe the taste of cold steel and hot lead with a massacre. The date passed unnoticed both by news media and historians.
And the memory of the 500-year-old continuous aggression of Cortés and his followers would have indeed continued unnoticed had it not been that on Monday, March 25, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in the town of Frontera,Tabasco, decided to commemorate the Battle of Centla.
AMLO’s wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, a history professor who wrote a book on Mexican history, participated in the event, during which she said, among other niceties, that “Spaniards are still not loved in Mexico.”
At that same event, AMLO also announced that, on March 1, he had sent a letter jointly directed to the king of Spain, Felipe VI, and Pope Francis, asking them to issue an apology, in the name of Spain and the Catholic Church, to the native peoples of Mexico because the conquest was done in their name.
“We want them to beg forgiveness to the original peoples (of Mexico) for the violations to what is now known as human rights. There were slaughters, impositions of the so-called conquest carried out with the sword and the cross,” AMLO said.
Reaction from the Spanish government came swiftly, with a statement issued that same evening:
“The government of Spain deeply laments the letter the president of the Mexican United States, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, sent to King Felipe VI last March 1, the contents of which we firmly reject” the statement read.
It has since been made public.
The Spanish government considers that “the arrival, 500 years ago, of the Spaniards to the current Mexican territory cannot be judged under the aegis of contemporary considerations.”
It continues on to say: “Our brotherly peoples have always known how to read our shared past without wrath and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a common heritage.”
It also said that the government of Spain “reiterates its disposition to work with the government of Mexico and continue to build the appropriate framework to intensify the existing relations of friendship and cooperation between our two peoples, which allows us to confront future challenges with a shared vision.”
On the other hand, a spokesman for The Vatican said that Pope Francis had read the letter and noted that the pope had been in a similar situation back in 2015, when he visited Bolivia. Back then, Pope Francis did beg public forgiveness, both for the crimes committed by the Church and the conquerors.
In Spain, AMLO’s letters caused a bit of political firestorm since the country is in pre-electoral effervescence and three separate rightwing parties called the letter to the king “an affront to Spain.” There are other disgruntled Spanish politicians who are insulting AMLO, calling him “an imbecile” for having written it.
Rumor has it that the spokeswoman for the We Can in Congress party, Ione Ibarra, tweeted_ “López Obrador is a most dignified president of Mexico. He is correct in demanding that the king (of Spain) beg for forgiveness for the abuses that occurred during the Conquest. If ‘We Can’ arrive in Congress, there will be a recovery process of the democratic and colonial memory to restore the (dignity of the) victims.”
In Mexico, public reaction to AMLO’s letters has been astronomically indignant, both for and against. Tweets range from the very proper to the obscene – as usual in what AMLO calls “the blessed public media” – and with the minority opposition politicians always ready with a phrase to contradict the president.
This is where the retrospective of the conquest of Mexico is leading the discussion.
AMLO has said that his letter is aimed a bringing together opinions to gauge what course of action to follow as for the most part on the matter. The president’s wife, Gutierrez Müller, is a blonde of Spanish and German descent, and she is correct in mentioning that the native peoples still hold resentment, not just for the colonial slave ruling of Spain, but for the treatment they’ve received from the Mexican government, which will be celebrating its 200th anniversary as a separate nation from Spain on Sept. 27, 2021. (The call to independence was celebrated in 2010.)
Where will all this lead us? Definitely to more flareups of political mudslinging in Mexico. The memory of the so-called conquest of Mexico stirs both positive and negative emotions.
In the midst of all this is the omnipotent presence – in absentia — of Hernán Cortés himself, who some Mexicans see as “the butcher” and others as “the father of modern Mexico.”
This debate can only grow louder from now until the 500th anniversary of the conquista is finally over in 2021. Until then, we’ll keep you posted.