By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador formally apologized to the nation’s indigenous Maya people on Tuesday, May 4, for the multiple abuses committed against them over the course of the last five centuries, but the local Maya were having none of it.
Speaking in a ceremonial event attended by both Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei and selected pro-government leaders of the Maya community in Mexico’s southeastern state of Quintana Roo, AMLO outlined how Spanish invaders first conquered the Maya civilization, along with other indigenous cultures, more than a half millennium ago.
He also talked about Mexico’s infamously bloody Caste War, which lasted from 1847 to 1901 and lead to the death of more than 250,000 Maya, one of the darkest chapter’s in the nation’s history.
“The Mexican government offers its most sincere apologies to the Maya people for the terrible abuses committed by individuals and national and foreign authorities during the conquest, during three centuries of colonial domination and two centuries of an independent Mexico,” AMLO said.
“All of the country’s indigenous people have, up to the present time, suffered exploitation, dispossession, repression, racism, exclusion and massacres, but the Yaqui (an indigenous community in the northwestern Sonora region of the country) and the Maya have been, to the shame of all, treated the worst and are the victims of the greatest cruelty.”
But while AMLO delivered his speech Tuesday morning, just outside the premises of the ceremony, hundreds of Maya protesters — members of the U Jeets’el le ki’ki ‘kuxtal (For a Dignified Life) movement — yelled out in unison that they rejected the president’s apology, claiming that his administration is also guilty of exploitation and the violation of the human rights of Mexico’s indigenous people.
“No, Mr. President, we do not accept your apologies,” they screamed over the voices of AMLO and the other speakers, who carried on with the ceremony despite the ruckus.
“This was a cynical and insincere apology.”
In an open letter published late Monday, May 3, the U Jeets’el movement wrote: ”We affirm that the head of the Mexican executive treats the Maya community as people without reason, without thought, without the possibility of deciding their own future and that of their people collectively, outside of partisan politics.”
The letter went on to say that “whoever asks for forgiveness perpetuates racism, discrimination and contempt for the Maya people.”
The group also said that, through various large development projects that affect the Yucatan Peninsula and that were bulldozed through by the AMLO administration, such as the controversial Tren Maya tourist train that local communities have adamantly opposed, the Mexican government’s “colonization continues, each day with more violence and intensity.”
“The tranquility of our villages is transformed into the terror that the companions of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar experience at every moment, since these have become regional, national and even global headquarters of labor exploitation, of the generalized insecurity, femicides and murders, drug and human trafficking that the government has wrought.”
The group demanded that the government pay financial and territorial retribution for “its crimes against the Maya people,” including the introduction of transgenics and hybrid corn, which has, to a large extent, displaced traditional Maya farming techniques.
The letter also made reference to the use of pesticides that led to the contamination of the Yucatan water table, as well as the deforestation of the jungle and the death of bees and other native insects that maintain living ecosystems and are essential to maintain the livelihoods of the Maya communities.
AMLO did not respond to the U Jeets’el le ki’ki ‘kuxtal protest.