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Mexico’s government has offered an official apology to the Maya Indigenous people for the “terrible abuses” committed against them in the centuries since the Spanish conquest.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador presented the apology as part of a series of events this year marking the 500th anniversary of the conquest and the bicentennial of Mexico’s 1821 independence from Spain.
“We offer the most sincere apologies to the Maya 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,” Lopez Obrador said.
He was joined by Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei at the ceremony in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo.
Lopez Obrador referred in particular to the 1847-1901 Caste War, an Indigenous rebellion in which some 250,000 people are believed to have died.
His government also recognised the racism and neglect that continue to afflict the ethnic minority.
“We apologise to the Maya people of Mexico… for the wrongs committed against them throughout history and for the discrimination that they are still victims of today,” Minister of the Interior Olga Sanchez said.
“Today, we ask forgiveness in the name of the Mexican government for the injustices committed against you throughout our history and for the discrimination which even now you are victims of,” she said.
Guatemala’s Giammattei, whose country has a large Maya population, said slavery and war have been replaced by other problems such as violence and migration.
“We continue to face the loss of human life – now due to organised crime, malnutrition and the search for opportunities that so many people seek far away,” he said.
Jeering was heard during the ceremony from residents who oppose the construction of Lopez Obrador’s “Maya Train” pet project to link Caribbean resorts with ancient archaeological sites.
Critics of the railway say it will damage the environment and hurt Indigenous communities.
While Mexico’s Mayas have survived, they have been largely locked out of the rich tourism industry that has sprung up at coastal resorts like Cancun and Playa del Carmen since 1974.
Most make a living as small-scale farmers or fruit growers, or as construction or cleaning workers at resorts.
While the coast south of Cancun is known as the “Riviera Maya,” and aquatic parks often have “Mayan” attractions, the vast majority of Mayas live in poverty in the southern, undeveloped part of Quintana Roo, south of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, close to the border with Belize.
“We realise that we have a great history, that we are held up as an example, and people make a lot of money off our name, but that money never shows up in our communities,” Mayan activist Alfaro Yam Canul told the Associated Press.