President López Obrador revealed Monday that he had instructed his wife to ask Austrian authorities to lend Mexico an elaborate headdress that is believed to have belonged to the Aztec emperor at the time of the Spanish Conquest.
Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller met Monday with the president of Austria, where the penacho de Moctezuma (Moctezuma’s headdress) – made of feathers from the quetzal and other birds – is on display at the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna.
“With the intention of obtaining Mexican historical and archaeological pieces to be exhibited in our country during the bicentenary of independence [in 2021], Beatriz visited the president of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen,” López Obrador wrote in a Twitter post above a picture of his wife and the head of state.
“I recommended that she insist on the penacho de Moctezuma, although it’s an almost impossible mission given that they’ve appropriated it completely to the extent that they didn’t even lend it to [Emperor] Maximilian … when they invaded us and imposed the so-called Second Mexican Empire,” he said in a second post.
Austria’s possession of the headdress, whose provenance has been disputed, has long been a source of tension with Mexico. The penacho is among a range of Mexican artifacts held by the European nation.
In an Instagram post on Monday, Gutiérrez wrote that the Austrian National Library is in possession of a “great collection” of Mexican artifacts including the Venice Codex, a pictorial document dating back to the 14th century.
She also said the governments of Mexico and Austria had signed an agreement to allow digital access to the latter’s collection.
“This agreement will allow all Mexicans to see the digitalized collection of this historic and extremely important European library. Humanity’s cultural heritage is shared, … it belongs to everyone, not to a private individual,” Gutiérrez wrote.
Earlier in her European trip, Gutiérrez met in Paris with Brigitte Macron, the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, where she also attended the opening of an exhibition focused on the culture of Mexico’s Olmec civilization.
The president’s wife, who has broken with tradition and not adopted the title of first lady, also met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome and Pope Francis in Vatican City.
She delivered a letter from López Obrador to Mattarella in which he asked Italy to lend Mexico the Florentine and Cospi codices for exhibitions in 2021, which will also mark the 500th anniversary of the Conquest of Mexico led by Hernán Cortés and the 700th anniversary of the founding of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec or Mexica capital that stood on the land where modern day Mexico City is located.
The president also wrote to Pope Francis to ask for the Catholic Church to offer a public apology to Mexico’s indigenous people for the “atrocities” committed during the Conquest.
López Obrador has previously written to both the pope and the King of Spain asking that they apologize for the indignities suffered by the native peoples, but without success.
Meanwhile, the president of the Mexican Employers Federation (Coparmex) criticized López Obrador and Gutiérrez for bringing up “painful” events from the past while the latter is in Europe.
“In the 21st century reliving episodes that were painful, that were part of a historical context, seems like a bit of a pointless adventure. We have to build pride in our history,” Gustavo de Hoyos told a virtual press conference.
The Coparmex chief also criticized López Obrador for not traveling more to meet with world leaders and promote Mexico’s interests abroad.
It’s all well and good for government ministers or the president’s wife to travel overseas but international relations must also be conducted by the president because there are certain things that only he can do, de Hoyos said.
He said that López Obrador’s meeting with United States President Donald Trump in Washington – during the Mexican leader’s only foreign trip since he took office in late 2018 – was a clear example that “these kind of actions” can yield good results.