efe-epaMexico City

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday emphasized the importance of the bilateral relationship with Spain despite "transitory differences" and hailed the Spanish exiles in his country for contributing "to development."

"We've had links that unite us for a long time and we can have transitory differences. But what intertwines us is more than that, what unites Mexico and Spain," said the Mexican president at the National Palace at a commemorative ceremony on the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the first Spanish exiles fleeing the European country's civil war.

The Mexican leader, who several months ago got into a controversy with Spain for demanding that King Felipe and Pope Francis apologize for the abuses committed during the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, said that "above all" he wants to maintain "the good relationship with the people of Spain."

Accompanied by his foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, and Irene Lozano Domingo, Spain's secretary of state for Global Spain, Lopez Obrador praised former Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, who governed from 1934-1940 and pushed for welcoming the exiles.

"He is the most humanitarian president there has been in our country's history," Lopez Obrador said.

He emphasized the "contribution" of the more than 20,000 exiles who had supported the losing Republican side in Spain's 1936-1939 Civil War, a bloody internal struggle won by the Francisco Franco dictatorship.

"They were people with great professional and academic quality, who contributed to the development of the country," he emphasized.

Lopez Obrador took advantage of the event to make reference to the difficult migration situation Mexico is facing at present, with thousands of migrants crossing through the country from south to north en route to the United States and with the threat by US President Donald Trump to impose heavy tariffs on Mexico if it does not halt the flow.

The Mexican leader defended the right to asylum and said that the "human rights" of the migrants will be respected, but he noted that he is also going to be "very respectful" of the US government.

When his turn came to speak, Ebrard called this day a "special" one for both countries and emphasized the "guiding cause" of freedoms and rights brought to Mexico by the Spanish exiles.

Lozano remarked on Spain's "friendship and gratitude" toward Mexico for taking in the exiles eight decades ago, saying that Cardenas had offered them "a new homeland."

Also on Thursday, officials from the Mexican and Spanish governments, along with exiles and relatives, will commemorate at the port of Veracruz the arrival of the vessel Sinaia on June 13, 1939, carrying 1,500 Spanish exiles.