Mexico apologises to Mayan people for historic abuses

Native Americans with traditional costume participate at the festival of Valle del Maiz in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. (Photo by: Kobby Dagan/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Native Americans in traditional costume in Mexico

Mexico’s president has apologised to the indigenous Mayan people for abuses committed against them over the five centuries since the Spanish conquest.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke at an event also attended by Guatemalan leader Alejandro Giammattei in the south-east state of Quintana Roo.

He focused on the 1847-1901 Caste War revolt in which around 250,000 people are believed to have lost their lives. Mexico is due to hold legislative and municipal elections shortly.

“We offer the most sincere apologies to the Mayan people for the terrible abuses committed by individuals and national and foreign authorities in the conquest, during three centuries of colonial domination and two centuries of an independent Mexico,” Mr Lopez Obrador said.

Guatemala’s Alejandro Giammattei said the Mayan people still faced suffering and neglect.

“We have managed as a region to overcome aspects such as slavery, internal wars, and open confrontations between peoples,” he said.

“However, by revisiting our history, we can analyze the present and realize that we are still facing the loss of human lives but now at the hands of organized crime, because of malnutrition, and the tireless search for the dream and opportunities that so many people pursue.”

It isn’t entirely surprising that Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the president to make this official apology to the Mayan people: he first made his name as a vocal activist for indigenous rights in his home state of Tabasco, but that makes it no less historic.

It will come as something of an important milestone to Mayan leaders who have long pushed for greater recognition of the wholesale slaughter of their people and near eradication of their culture and customs by the Spanish and Mexican governments.

However, the timing will also be met with some scepticism. There is just a month before vital legislative and municipal elections, and President López Obrador continues to push forward with his pet project of the Tren Maya – a tourist train which will run through a region called the Riviera Maya – despite overwhelming local opposition.

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