Mexico president insists relations with Spain still ‘paused’

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Mexico’s president insisted Friday that his country’s relations with Spain are still “on pause,” one day after Mexico’s top diplomat met with his Spanish counterpart and said relations were being “relaunched.”

The confusing about-face involves years-old complaints by President Andrés Manuel López about Spanish companies operating in Mexico, and Spain’s refusal to apologize for abuses committed during the conquest of Mexico in the colonial era.

Mexico’s foreign policy appears to be largely conducted by López Obrador, who also recently placed “on pause” relations with Peru. In the case of Peru, López Obrador said Mexico still recognizes Pedro Castillo as the Peruvian president despite lawmakers removing him from office last week for trying to dissolve Congress before a scheduled impeachment vote.

On Thursday, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard met with his Spanish counterpart, José Manuel Albares, and said that “we are entering into a relaunching, regarding bilateral relations.” The two embraced and spoke of new cooperation during the meeting of the Spain-Mexico Bilateral Commission.

But early Friday, López Obrador contradicted Ebrard, saying: “No, the pause continues, because there is no attitude of respect on their part.”

In February, López Obrador accused Spanish companies of taking unfair advantage of private-sector openings to sign crooked contracts to build power plants in Mexico.

In 2020, López Obrador sent a letter asking Spain to apologize for the brutality of the 1521 conquest of Mexico and centuries of colonial rule.

“I sent a respectful letter to the head of state, the king of Spain, and he didn’t even have the courtesy to answer me,” the president complained Friday. “They said we had to thank them for coming here and colonizing us, and later with the companies, the same arrogant attitude.”

Spain quickly shot back in a statement from the foreign ministry.

“The government of Spain emphatically rejects the comments by the president of Mexico about His Majesty the King, Spanish companies and Spanish political sectors,” the statement said. “These statements are incomprehensible after a successful Bilateral Commission that offered so many concrete results.”

The whole thing put Ebrard — who hopes to be nominated by the president’s Morena party to succeed López Obrador — in a difficult spot. Ebrard cannot publicly disagree with the president, though he suggested the Thursday meeting had been approved by López Obrador.

Mexico’s 2020 letter said, “The Catholic Church, the Spanish monarchy and the Mexican government should make a public apology for the offensive atrocities that Indigenous people suffered.”

The letter came as Mexico marked the 500th anniversary of the 1519-1521 conquest, which resulted in the death of a large part of the country’s pre-Hispanic population.

López Obrador had already asked Spain for an apology for the conquest in 2019. Spain’s foreign minister at the time, Josep Borrell, said his country “will not issue these apologies that have been requested.”

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