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Mexican president sends ‘protest’ to Spain over companies

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president on Thursday described his decision to “pause” relations with Spain as a protest over the behavior of Spanish energy companies in Mexico.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the pause “is not breaking off relations” with Spain, describing it as “nothing but a respectful, fraternal protest for the abuses and wrongs committed against the people of Mexico.”

The Spanish Foreign Ministry wrote in statement that Spain “categorically rejects the criticisms … of Spain and Spanish companies.”

“The government wants a relationship based on mutual respect, as do Spaniards and Mexicans, without this type of comments,” the ministry said.

López Obrador had said Wednesday he was taking a time-out in relations with Spain, but didn’t clarify what that meant. He has repeatedly accused Spanish companies of taking unfair advantage of private-sector openings to sign crooked contracts to build power plants in Mexico.

López Obrador had previously asked Spain to apologize for the brutality of the 1521 conquest of Mexico and centuries of colonial rule.

López Obrador’s announcement of the diplomatic pause Wednesday came at the end of a diatribe against Spanish energy companies that he said engaged in “robbery” and treated Mexico like “a conquered land.”

“Right now the relationship is not good,” López Obrador said Wednesday. “I would like to put it on pause, until we can normalize it. That I think would be in the best interest of Mexicans and Spaniards.”

“Let’s give ourselves a little time, a pause,” he said. “Maybe relations will be reestablished when the administration changes.”

Spanish energy companies like Repsol and Iberdrola took advantage of openings in the last decade that allowed private and foreign companies to build electrical power plants in Mexico, a sector once dominated by Mexico’s state-owned utility.

López Obrador is seeking to reverse those openings because he said the state-owned company was put at a disadvantage with private firms. That proposed change has drawn concern about protecting the Spanish firms’ investments.

Just as with the 2019-20 flap over a Spanish apology for the conquest, opponents accused López Obrador of digging up old issues of national sovereignty to distract from his political problems. This time around, the president was stung recently by revelations that his son had lived in a luxury home in Houston that was owned by a former executive of a government oil contractor.

“The president is opening up a debate that doesn’t exist, with the only intention of distracting public opinion from the corruption accusations against his son,” the conservative National Action Party said in a statement.

In 2020, when López Obrador was stymied on several fronts in domestic policy, he sent a letter saying “The Catholic Church, the Spanish monarchy and the Mexican government should make a public apology for the offensive atrocities that Indigenous people suffered.”

The letter came as Mexico marked the 500th anniversary of the 1519-1521 conquest, which resulted in the death of a large part of the country’s pre-Hispanic population.

In 2019, López Obrador asked Spain for an apology for the conquest.

Spain’s foreign minister at the time, Josep Borrell, said his country “will not issue these apologies that have been requested.”

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