The ghosts of the past have returned to haunt Spanish – Latin American relations, after Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, called this week for “pausing” of diplomatic relations with Spain, as he escalated his criticism of the country´s colonial exploitation of Mexico.
Lopez Obrador made the comments at a news conference where he asked for a “breather” in official ties – a reflection he says that “the relationship is not good.”
“They were like the owners of Mexico,” he said before stating that the current relationship allows for Spanish companies to “plunder us.”
“Perhaps when the government changes, relations will be restored, and I wish that when I’m no longer here they wouldn’t be what they were before”, said the Mexican president.
The Mexican president has been consistent in his assertion that Spanish authorities and corporations have been exploiting the country, particularly in the energy sector.
He cited as examples. energy company Iberdrola and oil firm, Repsol, as Spanish companies that benefited from past Mexican governments
The Spanish government reacted swiftly to the remarks, releasing an official communique from the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez´s office, rejecting Lopez Obrador´s criticism, stating that: “The Government wants relations based on mutual respect, as Spanish and Mexican people want, without these kinds of demonstrations.”
The Spanish foreign ministry weighed in, stessing the two countries’ “deep human, cultural, historical, linguistic and economic ties”.
In addition, the ministry highlighted that “more than 175,000 Spaniards live in Mexico and nearly 30,000 Mexicans live in our country. Spain is the second largest investor in Mexico, with 7,000 companies in the country.
Spanish investment amounts to more than 70 billion euros and Mexican investment in Spain exceeds 25 billion euros”.
Despite the two countries shared history, the relationship has not always been an easy one.
The conquistador Hernán Cortés destroyed Aztec Empire in 1521, renaming its capital, Tenochtitlan to Mexico City, as the new capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain – and where the surviving Aztecs were not allowed to live.
The Viceroyalty had a stratified social racial hierarchy with native Spaniards, known as Peninsulares at the top followed by half castes and natives.
Under the Spanish Empire the native population was forced to convert to Catholicism and historians claim that the arrival of the Europeans caused massive native population loss due to disease and war.
Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards emigrated to New Spain but unlike the English-speaking colonists of North America, the majority of the early colonists were single men who married or made concubines of the natives which created a sizeable half caste or mestizo population.
The 1810 Grito de Dolores Speech by Mexican priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, against Spanish rule, is widely recognized as the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, which was achieved by the Treaty of Córdoba in 1821.
However, it was to be another 15 years until Mexico was fully recognised by Spain.
In the 20th century, Mexico broke relations with Spain when Franco took power following the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 and which were only restored in 1977.
Despite a warm relationship since, on taking office in 2019, Lopez Obrador sent a letter to the King of Spain and Pope Francis asking them to apologize for the exploitation committed in Spain’s conquest of Mexico.
The Spanish government rejected the request, however, Pope Francis replied, stating: ” It is necessary to re-read the past, taking into account both the lights and the shadows that have shaped the history of the country,” and which must include, “a process of purification of memory, that is, recognizing the mistakes made in the past, which have been very painful.”