Tuesday 6 June 2023

Mexico’s apology to indigenous Maya people: Progress or political show?

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has made a historic apology to indigenous Maya communities in the country. But skeptics say the apology is empty if Maya people keep being excluded from local industries.

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Q24N – Exactly 120 years after the battle that ended the last great Maya revolt in Mexico’s Yucatan area, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marked the anniversary with words never before said by a Mexican president.

Mexico’s President Andres Lopez Obrador (right) apologized at a ceremony for “grievances” committed against Maya communities

“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,” he said Monday while visiting the rebellion’s headquarters in Tihosuco, Quintana Roo state.

Lopez Obrador, also known as AMLO, said Maya people had been especially subjected to “exploitation, plundering, repression, racism, exclusion and massacres.”

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To some, his acknowledgment didn’t come as a surprise because of his roots working with indigenous groups in the late 1970s. But critics argue the speech doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t backed by government action to support Maya communities.

Maya ruins are popular destinations for tourists in Yucatan

Blocked from industries in their territories

In his speech, Lopez Obrador highlighted the exclusion of indigenous Mexicans under the rule of Porfirio Diaz in the late 1800s. Diaz pushed for modernization and economic progress in Mexico, often to the detriment of poorer and native communities.

“During [Porfirio Diaz’s rule] the worst colonization laws passed and the worst massacres happened,” he said.

However, a National Indigenous Congress campaign rejected Lopez Obrador’s words, accusing him of similar policies.

“His apology comes along with big companies; sources of dispossession, which enrich few while people live in misery,” the U Jeets’el le Ki’ki Kuxtal campaign said in an open letter. 

Though Yucatan destinations like Tulum or Cancun’s “Riviera Maya” have long been tourist playgrounds, Maya people have largely been excluded from the industry.

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For example, many communities accuse the government of locking them out of the development of the “Tren Maya” mega-project, even though they would be impacted. Under the proposal, the railway’s trains will run in a loop in the Yucatan peninsula to connect beach resorts with ruin sites, possibly damaging Maya communities and jungle in its way.

President Lopez Obrador inaugurated the construction of the Tren Maya last year

‘The war hasn’t ended’

Indigenous communities also have little participation in real estate or water extraction projects, says Jose Koyoc of the NGO Indignacion.

He stresses that Mayas are not a homogenous block, so there are a variety of opinions about the government.

But his collective unites different Maya communities in the Yucatan area that believe in their right to self-determination and, therefore, believe Lopez Obrador’s apology doesn’t go far enough.

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“The bare minimum to initiate a dialogue is to let Maya communities decide what is happening in their territories,” says Koyoc.

For him, the war between Mayas and the Mexican government whose anniversary Lopez Obrador marked on Monday still lives on in some ways.

“For us, the war hasn’t ended,” he said. “We still struggle with many of the same causes, like the right to decide over our future and to question the system.”

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Q24N is an aggregator of news for Latin America. Reports from Mexico to the tip of Chile and Caribbean are sourced for our readers to find all their Latin America news in one place.

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