Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has issued an apology to the nation’s Indigenous Mexican peoples for the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Half a millennium after the Spanish invaded and colonised Mexico, the President asked for forgiveness from the nation’s Indigenous peoples and acknowledged the continuing legacy of colonisation.

On August 13, López Obrador addressed media beside a near life size replica of the Aztec twin temples in the centre of Mexico City’s main plaza. which was built in honour of the anniversary.

The Spanish Empire forcibly overthrew the Aztec Empire in 1521 when the invading force, led by Hernán Cortés, took the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan — now known as Mexico City.

The colonial force destroyed the city and so began three centuries of Spanish rule over the country and its Indigenous peoples.

“Today we remember the fall of the great Tenochtitlan,” he said.

“We apologise to the victims of the catastrophe caused by the Spanish military occupation of Mesoamerica and the territory of the current Mexican Republic.”

The President criticised the colonial narratives which inform national history.

“What civilisation can we talk about if the lives of millions of human beings are lost and the nation, the empire or the dominant monarchy does not manage in three centuries of colonisation to recover the population that existed before the military occupation?” he said.

“The conquest and colonisation are signs of backwardness, not of civilisation, less of justice.”

In his address, López Obrador renewed calls he made in March 2019 for apologies from both the Spanish Monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church for the “atrocities” committed during the conquest.

The requests were sent only two months after Mexico hosted Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

This apology is one of 15 events planned this year to commemorate conquest anniversaries. The President made an apology to the Mayan people earlier this year during an event marking the 500-year anniversary of the Spanish conquest and 200-year anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain.

López Obrador made history in 2018 when he won the presidential elections, with a campaign that promised to prioritise the voices and needs of the Indigenous people of Mexico.

By Rachael Knowles