Mexico’s president has made an historic apology to the Indigenous Mayan people for the abuses they suffered in the five centuries since the Spanish conquest.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador presented the apology during an event marking the 500-year anniversary of the Spanish conquest and 200-year anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain.

“We offer the most sincere apologies to the Maya people for the terrible abuses committed by individuals and national and foreign authorities in the conquest, during three centuries of colonial domination and two centuries of an independent Mexico,” López Obrador said.

The Mexican President said the Maya people have been subjected to “exploitation, plundering, repression, racism, exclusion and massacres”.

In his speech, López Obrador focused on the 1847-1901 Caste War revolt during which around 250,000 people are believed to have lost their lives.

The apology was made at one of 15 events planned this year to commemorate the anniversaries of conquest and independence, and was attended by Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero and Guatemalan leader Alejandro Giammattei.

Giammattei said the Mayan people were still suffering.

“We have managed as a region to overcome aspects such as slavery, internal wars, and open confrontations between peoples,” he said.

“However, by revisiting our history, we can analyse the present and realise that we are still facing the loss of human lives but now at the hands of organised crime, because of malnutrition, and the tireless search for the dream and opportunities that so many people pursue.”

López Obrador has a background in Indigenous affairs as the head of the Indigenous People’s Institute of Tabasco in 1977.

BBC’s Mexico and Central America correspondent Will Grant said though the speech was historic, it has been met with some scepticism.

“There is just a month before vital legislative and municipal elections, and President López Obrador continues to push forward with his pet project of the Tren Maya — a tourist train which will run through a region called the Riviera Maya — despite overwhelming local opposition,” said Grant.

The governors of the states through which the Tren Maya will run, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche and Yucatán, also attended the event.

By Sarah Smit