Saturday, December 4

Historical revisionism: From forgiveness to gestures: this is how the year of historical memory in Mexico ends

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets during the ceremony of the Bicentennial of the Independence of Mexico, last Monday.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets during the ceremony of the Bicentennial of the Independence of Mexico, last Monday.Nayeli Cruz

The Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador closed on Monday a year of historic celebrations on the occasion of the Bicentennial of Mexico’s Independence. From the seven centuries since the founding of Tenochtitlan to the five since the fall of the capital of the Aztec civilization and the 200 years since the entry of the Trigarante Army into the capital, the president brought together these commemorations with background music: the vindication of indigenous resistance and the idea of ​​forgiveness for past abuses. The deep reflection on historical memory remained, however, in some gestures that have more to do with political and diplomatic balances and are played in the field of the symbolic.

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Pope Francis was probably the most groundbreaking in his message. López Obrador had asked him at the beginning of 2019, like Felipe VI and the Spanish State, an apology for the excesses of the conquest. The Pontiff sent a letter days ago to the president of the Mexican Episcopal Conference and Archbishop of Monterrey, Monsignor Rogelio Cabrera López, who read it on Monday during the president’s morning conference. In the letter, he appeals to “a process of purification of memory, that is, to recognize the mistakes made in the past.” “For this reason,” adds Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “both my predecessors and myself have asked forgiveness for personal and social sins, for all actions or omissions that did not contribute to evangelization.” The Pope does not offer new apologies, but refers to what has been said previously and calls to look to the future: “We do not evoke the pains of the past to stay there, but to learn from them and continue taking steps, with a view to healing the wounds, to cultivate an open and respectful dialogue between differences ”.

“It seems to me that the Pope’s response is very intelligent and recognizes the whole dimension of the forgiveness that López Obrador gives him. He says that the Church already asked for forgiveness in 1992 ″, points out Federico Navarrete, historian and professor at UNAM, and he also does so following the religious logic of forgiveness that marks the president’s speech. But Francisco also mentions “the persecution of Catholics in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century, a campaign of religious intolerance against a group of Catholics that in the liberal narrative of the secular state is often belittled.” And it is to them too, Navarrete believes, that the Mexican authorities owe a pardon.

López Obrador listens to Pope Francis' letter read by Cardinal Rogelio Cabrera.
López Obrador listens to Pope Francis’ letter read by Cardinal Rogelio Cabrera.Sáshenka Gutiérrez / EFE

The Vatican’s writing is very measured, because it winks at all those involved and at the same time responds to the interests of the Catholic Church. In any case, it goes further than the Government of Pedro Sánchez. Madrid not only did not respond to the request for an apology, but also due to the frictions that arose from this dispute and did not participate in the independence commemorations, claiming that it had not received an official invitation. López Obrador has accused Spain of “arrogance” and has admitted that lately there have been disagreements and misunderstandings. And to “reestablish” relations that, in practice, have never been interrupted, he has just appointed a new ambassador, Quirino Ordaz Coppel, a veteran leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Forgiveness is a central notion of the so-called Fourth Transformation and it works very well in the political arena. The Mexican president presented at the end of 2020 a Ethical guide for the transformation of Mexico, a kind of moral primer written by intellectuals related to his project, in which forgiveness is defined as a force that “liberates whoever gives it and whoever receives it.” More than the abstract principle of forgiveness, however, this has been the year of forgiveness. That is to say, of the specific gestures, also those offered by the Mexican Government. López Obrador traveled to Sonora on Tuesday to apologize to the Yaqui people for “the wars of extermination,” although he did not mention the violence of organized crime, which has just murdered five members of that community.

For Rodrigo Moreno Gutiérrez, researcher at the Institute of Historical Research of the UNAM. it is “a political game that has to be understood above all in the sphere of symbols.” For this historian, the Pope’s mention of the Trigarante Movement, of Iguala, is interesting, since “the role of the religious and the ecclesiastical is of the utmost importance in the independence of Mexico.” However, this type of communication does not seek, in his opinion, “to problematize history, but to use it.” And this is not something exclusive to López Obrador, all sectors do it.

“It is not that they go to the past to seek explanations,” continues Moreno. “In this case it is a dialogue that will be established between the Vatican and the Mexican State at this level, there is at no time a sophistication in the use of the past and it seems to me that there is no instrumentation of forgiveness in an area that could be more operational ”. In other contexts and in other societies, apologies are inserted into restorative justice mechanisms and, therefore, he points out, “they have immediate political and legal implications.” “That forgiveness remains in the realm of the symbolic,” he stresses. That is, it is not about explaining the past but about appealing to the “symbolic referent that is aimed at the persuasion of some values, mobilizes feelings and little else.”

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