However, the term does not really fit here because populism is associated with right-wing movements rather than those on the left. Nonetheless, because his political views clash with American policies in Latin America – policies that America does not want to give up anytime soon, mainly because of its current dealings with migration from the southern border – he is unpopular among American officials.
32. Amlo Has Long Championed Mexico’s Indigenous Peoples
About 20% of Mexico’s people consider themselves to be indigenous, but genetically, those numbers are probably much, much higher. Indigenous peoples, especially those who try to preserve a more traditional way of life, have some of the highest rates of poverty in Mexico and very few opportunities for advancement.
31. After Taking Office, He Asked Spain and the Vatican to Apologize
He wanted them to apologize for human rights abuses that occurred against indigenous peoples during the conquest of Mexico that happened five centuries ago. Those abuses, which amounted to genocide, occurred in Spain’s attempt to convert the indigenous peoples to Roman Catholicism.
Christopher Columbus never did arrive in what we now recognize as Latin America; he found the West Indies – islands in the Caribbean that are in the vicinity of Florida, which now comprises countries like the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Columbus and his crew had the mentality of conquering the native peoples and devastating their societies.
29. He Set the Stage for Spanish Imperialism in the Americas
The Spanish Empire did not spread into Europe; instead, it colonized land in the Americas that already belonged to indigenous peoples. Following the voyage of Christopher Columbus came the rise of the Spanish conquistadors, who continued his process of subjugating and brutalizing the indigenous peoples.
28. The Conquistadors Were After “Gold, God, and Glory”
They didn’t set out to terrorize native peoples. Rather, they wanted to claim new lands for the empire, find gold that would make them exceedingly wealthy, and convert the native peoples to Catholicism. The agenda seemed benign, if not helpful to the indigenous peoples that the conquistadors would encounter.
27. At the Time, the Aztecs and Maya Dominated Mexico
Far from being a collection of barbaric tribes, Aztec and Maya civilizations were highly structured. They were empires that had rulers that oversaw the entire government, nobles, and priests. Their governments looked a lot like those of Europe, minus the part about human sacrifice.
Of course, at that time, the place wasn’t known as Mexico. It wasn’t a country, but rather a collection of imperial states ruled by the Aztecs and Maya. He was a conquistador and had a very straightforward agenda: gold, God, and glory. What that agenda amounted to was a genocidal slaughter of the Aztecs and the fall of their empire.
25. Within Two Years, the Aztec Empire Was Destroyed
Cortes and his men deliberately pursued a tactic that would bring the mighty Aztec empire to its knees. They executed its emperor, Montezuma, and allied themselves with warring tribes who opposed Aztec rule. They also used their far superior military weapons – such as guns, swords, and horses – against the Aztecs.
24. 350,000 Aztecs Died in the Siege of Tenochtitlan
Tenochtitlan, near present-day Mexico City, was the capital of the Aztec Empire. Cortes and his troops waged a 93-day siege against the city, which led to its collapse. 100,000 Aztecs died of starvation, and an additional 250,000 died during the battle. With the fall of Tenochtitlan, there was no way for the empire to recover.
Along with superior military weapons and tactics, Cortes and his men brought diseases, like smallpox, to the indigenous people, who did not have an immunity built up against them. Many, many of the indigenous people in present-day Mexico died of these diseases. While accidentally getting someone else sick can hardly be considered a violation of human rights, one can’t rule out the possibility that biological warfare, in which the Spanish intentionally infected the indigenous people, was used.
Much of North America, from what is now Florida to Washington State, along with what is now Mexico and Central America, became part of the Spanish Empire. Spain did not conquer all of the indigenous peoples in what is now the United States, although later Americans successfully carried out genocide against them. However, it considered itself to be the true owner of the land.
21. The Church Functioned as Part of the Government
Because of the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the Reconquista of Spain in Europe, it came to function as an arm of the Spanish government. With the colonization of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, missionaries often accompanied the conquistadors in the hopes of converting these indigenous people to Catholicism.
20. Some Conversions Were Peaceful, but Others Were Not
Many of the Amerindians adopted the Christian god, the god of their conquerors, as yet another god in their pantheon. This belief did not require them to change their belief system. More forcible conversions led to the erasure of many local customs and traditions.
19. The Mexican Inquisition Brought the Spanish Inquisition to New Spain
The Spanish Inquisition was a period in which people who were not Roman Catholic were severely persecuted and tortured to try to force them to renounce their faith and convert to Catholicism. Many natives died under the Mexican Inquisition, which used many of the same tactics.
18. The Conquistadors Found Some Gold, but They Found Much More Silver
They found so much silver – literally mountains of it – that between the 16th and 18th centuries, 150,000 tons of silver was imported to Spain. The silver Spanish peso became the most important currency in all of Europe. So the conquistadors kind of fulfilled that aspect of their agenda. They did get very, very rich.
17. The Spanish Empire Used the Indigenous Peoples as Slave Labor to Mine Silver
Where the Aztecs, Mayan, and other indigenous groups had once thrived, they were now wholly subjugated and forced to work as slaves. They were paid subsistence wages to perform backbreaking work in silver mines, while their Spanish overseers became immensely wealthy.
News about mining accidents is still prevalent today. In the Latin American silver mines, mercury, a deadly neurotoxin, was commonly used to help mine the silver. The tunnels were so dangerous that mothers would actually maim their children to prevent them from having to work in them.
15. The Viceroyalty of New Spain Lasted Until 1821
That year, Mexico and other countries in Central and Latin America gained independence. Three centuries of Spanish rule had caused immense changes in Mexican society, from the falls of the Aztec and Maya empires to the importation of new people groups. The principal language became Spanish, and the predominant religion became Roman Catholicism.
Though the great Aztec Empire fell in 1521, there are still Aztec communities that live in Mexico’s vast rural stretches. They are referred to as the Nahua people, and they retain the original Aztec language, Nahuatl, as well as many Aztec customs. The existence of the language is considered to be endangered.
13. 20% of Mexico’s Population Today is Indigenous
In addition to the Nahua, there are 61 indigenous people groups that Mexico’s constitution recognizes today. Many indigenous people assimilated into mainstream Mexican culture and lost much of their traditions and culture, but these people groups have maintained many aspects of their pre-modern culture, including language and some religious beliefs (minus human sacrifice).
12. As in America, They Are Fighting For Their Rights
The Mexican constitution guarantees certain rights to indigenous people groups, but they constantly have to fight for rights to their own autonomy, territory, and access to resources. Even when these rights are explicitly mentioned in national law, enforcing and protecting them is an uphill battle.
11. They Are Subject to Government Maltreatment and Abuse
Farmers have been attacked and harassed by military groups who occupy their territory, in defiance of laws that prevent military encampments in native lands. Native peoples who speak out against government corruption, such as preventing them from electing their own leaders, may be incarcerated, tortured, or even murdered.
The subjugated place that indigenous peoples have in Mexican society today is a reflection of the genocidal policies implemented by the Spanish Empire. As when they were slaves with Spanish overlords, their communities are plagued with malnutrition, poverty, and sometimes violent repression by the government.
Pope Francis’s tenure has been marked by advocacy for social justice, especially among non-Catholics and communities that have historically faced persecution from the Vatican. During his five-day visit, he spoke out against drugs, environmental destruction, and forced emigration, all issues that are relevant to Mexico and particularly its indigenous peoples.
8. The Pope Attracted Large Crowds of Indigenous Peoples
Chiapas State is one of the least-Catholic areas of Mexico, and it has high populations of indigenous peoples. He held an open-air mass there, which was attended by tens of thousands of people, many of the indigenous. Indigenous women read Bible passages in their own native languages, something that they were previously not allowed to do because the Vatican did not permit their languages.
While in Chiapas, he said in a speech, “On many occasions, in a systematic and organized way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society. Some have considered your values, culture, and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them. How sad this is. How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!'”
6. Amlo’s Call for an Apology Is Part of His Social Justice Agenda
Some might argue that asking Spain and the Vatican to apologize for crimes against Mexico’s indigenous people is trite and unnecessary. However, Amlo sees it as necessary to address the genuine grievances that they have and the contemporary challenges that they face. He stated, “There were massacres… The so-called conquest was done with the sword and the cross. They raised churches on top of temples.”
After all, the Spanish conquest happened 500 years ago, and its empire fell nearly 300 years ago. Politically, the memory of the Spanish conquest does not hamper relations between Mexico and Spain. However, it may not be coincidental that 2019 marks exactly 500 years since Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519.
Spain’s present king, Felipe VI, had nothing to do with an event that happened five centuries ago. He is calling for a “constructive perspective,” saying, “The arrival, 500 years ago, of Spaniards to present Mexican territory cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations.” He believes that both Mexico and Spain can read their histories without anger.
3. Amlo Himself Has Apologized to the Indigenous Peoples
Amlo’s political career has long had the betterment of Mexico’s indigenous peoples as one of its highest priorities. Recognizing that the legacy of colonialism continued long after Spanish rule ended, he stated that he intends to apologize to Mexico’s indigenous people, as well.
2. He Declared 2021 as the Year of Historic Reconciliation
2021 marks exactly 500 years since the fall of the Aztec Empire. However, many skeptics wonder whether there is actually anything to reconcile. After all, history has moved forward, and Mexico, Spain, and the Vatican are all on friendly terms. However, the plight of Native Americans in the United States shows that generational trauma does continue to affect people for generations.
1. The Call is For Personal and Cultural Reconciliation
Maybe Amlo recognizes that the key to ending the social ills that have long plagued Mexico, such as the war on drugs, increasing crime, and poverty lies in creating a culture of peace and reconciliation. His call for an apology may be less a political maneuver than it is an attempt to make reconciliation the new trademark of Mexico and the means of bringing it into a new era.
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