By RICARDO CASTILLO
Who’s behind the letter President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) sent to the king of Spain earlier this week demanding an apology for the atrocities against Mexican natives committed on orders of the king’s Borbón predecessors during 300 years of colonial rule from 1521 through 1821? The simple answer is, his wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller.
Did she really write the letter? Of course she did.
What was not in the president’s agenda was the furious international reaction that it triggered. All of the often-Spanish intellectuals keep on complaining and demanding that AMLO apologize for having sent it. On Wednesday, March 27, King Felipe VI, pointed out, during a world celebration of the Spanish language in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that the issue had been settled back in 1836, when then-President José Justo Corro signed an agreement with the queen of Spain, María Isabel Luisa de Borbón y Borbón, in which the two nations agreed to “apologize to each other, and issue a general and complete amnesty agreeing to forget the past.”
In short, that document said that they would let bygones be bygones.
Gutiérrez Müller’s apparent obsession with past history is nothing new. It’s rumored she discussed the issue of the conquista with Spain’s Justice Minister Dolores Delgado in January during the visit of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Not much was said at the time about that discussion since the Sánchez was the first high-ranking foreign figure to visit AMLO.
Up until now, Gutiérrez Müller had played a minor role on the Mexican political stage, mainly as the camera-shy wife of the president. At best, she made the news — but not headlines — by asking people not to call her First Lady. She also refused to serve as the official figurehead of the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF), a network of social assistance programs that, since its founding in 1977, has always been led by the first lady in turn. Gutiérrez Müller’s reasoning behind her rejection of the title of First Lady was, as she put it, that “we don’t want first- and second-class women (in Mexico), just women.” The DIF is now run by the Health Secretariat.
Instead, Gutiérrez Müller was named by her husband last November to head up the then non-existent Advising Honorary Council of the National Coordination of Memory, which, now we learn, is in charge of organizing the “commemoration” of the 500th anniversary of the fall to Hernán Cortés of what was then called the Great Tenochtitlán and is now Mexico City.
Gutiérrez Müller’s appointment to the post was hardly mentioned back then, but it does not come as a surprise. She is a Mexican history professor and has taught at different universities. Her name appeared in the news last February during a literary fair in Guadalajara due to the presentation of her book, precisely on the subject of the conquest of Mexico, as witnessed by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a soldier who made the only existing objective picture of how the Great Tenochtitlán looked before it was destroyed.
Really, Gutiérrez Müller’s first public appearance related to the subject of the 500 year anniversary of the conquest was on Monday, March 25, when AMLO, who was then in the town of Reforma, Tabasco, recalled Cortés’ first slaughter of native Mexicans in what is known as the Battle of Centla, when for the first time, the indigenous people laid eyes on warriors on horseback using muskets and steel swords. At that event, Gutiérrez Müller offered a vivid account of the battle carried out on March 14, 1519. That was perhaps the first lecture of many more to come since this subject is her area of historical expertise.
As for the letter, it is still a mystery how it became public, but the conservative Mexican daily Reforma, which has openly declared war on the president, published two of the letter’s four pages. Reforma alleged that during her conversation with Spanish Justice Minister Delgado, Gutiérrez Müller said that now would be the best moment for Spain to beg forgiveness and change the manner in which Mexicans still perceive Spaniards. AMLO’s wife allegedly said that “Spaniards are not loved in Mexico; they are even hated by many.”
Gutiérrez Müller immediately responded on two different issues. First, she claimed that the letter had been “butchered” and distorted to the point that it no longer made any sense, since its original purpose was and still is to “create an ambiance of goodwill between Spain and Mexico.”
As for her alleged statement claiming that Spaniards are not loved in Mexico, and in many cases, hated, Gutiérrez Müller responded on Twitter, writing that “Tt’s false that I said such a thing.”
On Tuesday, March 26, AMLO had to pinch hit for his wife during his daily press conference on the subject, claiming that the letter “does not put bilateral relations (with Spain) at risk.”
“It’s a matter of being willing to (make the apology,” AMLO said, “and it is a question of each (nation’s) conscience.”
It must be said that the now-infamous letter, no doubt written by Gutiérrez Müller and signed by AMLO, has never been fully published in Mexico, so the public does not know its full content and intent.
But it surely has raised a hell of a ruckus.