Difficulties Between Mexico and Guatemala/Document No. III

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Extracts from a Pamphlet containing the correspondence exchanged
in 1874 between the Minister of Guatemala in
Mexico, Mr. Ramon Uriarte., and the Mexican Minister
of Foreign Affairs., Mr. José María Lafragua.


Legation of Guatemala, Mexico, August 21, 1874.

Sir: As was agreed in our last conference, I do myself the honor to send Your Excellency the inclosed memorandum, hoping you will be pleased to appoint a day and hour when I may present myself at your office to continue the discussion of the project of bases for a preliminary convention upon the boundaries between Guatemala and Mexico.

This occasion affords me the pleasure of renewing to Your Excellency the assurances of my distinguished consideration.

(Signed)R. URIARTE.

To His Excellency, Mr. José María Lafragua, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Mexican Republic.

Legation of Guatemala, Mexico, August 21, 1874.

Memorandum presented by the undersigned, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Guatemala, to His Excellency Mr. José María Lafragua, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Mexican Republic.

After examining with the greatest care all the documents found in the archives of the Legation in my charge concerning the various questions pending between Guatemala and Mexico, I now fulfill the duty of submitting to the enlightened consideration of Your Excellency the present memorandum as a basis for the conferences begun on the 22d of last July.

I would waive all mention of the obstacles hitherto encountered in bringing to a happy conclusion the treaties proposed between the two republics, and especially that concerning territorial limits, if it were not for the fact that in official documents Guatemala has been charged with unwillingness to conclude such treaties. This appears from the Memoir presented by Your Excellency to the Congress of the Union last year, and more explicitly from the documents concerning measures proposed for the development of the agricultural wealth of Soconusco presented by the Finance Department to the Congress of 1871. In this latter document it is stated that Mexico has always been ready to enter into friendly and equitable treaties with Guatemala, but that the latter power has refused to sign them under the belief, or at least the hope, of some time recovering the state of Chiapas. This is inexact. A rapid glance at the protocols of the conferences held at different periods between the commissioners of the two countries will demonstrate that Guatemala has not only been ever ready to negotiate treaties with Mexico, but that she has carried her condescension as far as is possible for a nation desirous of the closest harmony with her neighbors, without prejudice to her own dignity.

With respect to the question of limits, for example, Guatemala proposed in 1832 the arbitration of a friendly nation, which was declined by Mexico. Some years later, in 1854, Guatemala went to the extreme of renouncing her indisputable rights to Chiapas and Soconusco, without demanding any indemnification, and, if the negotiation was not carried out, it was because Mexico declined to recognize and pay the debt of those states to the ancient "Kingdom of Guatemala."

Nearly the same thing took place respecting the treaties of commerce and extradition of criminals, two of which were successively negotiated in 1831 and 1850, without having been ratified by the Mexican Government.

Guatemala has just given the latest proof of her sincere desire to terminate a question which has been pending for half a century between the two countries by sending the undersigned to this city. If on the part of Mexico, then, there exists the same desire, as Your Excellency has been pleased to intimate to me, nothing will be easier than to draw closer, by means of equitable conventions, the ties of friendship and fraternity which ought always to bind together two neighboring republics which have the same origin and identical interests.

As the first thing to be done is to agree upon a preliminary convention to fix the bases according to which should be traced the dividing line from the coasts of the Pacific to those of the Northern Sea, the undersigned sees no objection, respecting the question of Chiapas, to take as a starting-point the project discussed in Guatemala between Messrs. Pavon and Pereda in 1854. That is to say, that Guatemala will recognize the incorporation of that State into the Mexican territory on condition that Mexico will proceed to settle the debt which that province had contracted with what was formerly the "Captaincy-General of Guatemala."

The case is not the same respecting Soconusco. I waive for the present the narration of the acts by virtue of which that former district of Guatemala now forms a part of the United States of Mexico. Force does not constitute a title, and if with respect to Chiapas no one can doubt the justice with which Guatemala might demand its restitution, in regard to Soconusco it is abundantly evident that the violation of the neutrality in which it had been agreed to maintain that province can never be for Mexico a title of domain, but rather strengthens, in the eyes of international law, the titles which Guatemala has ever had for considering it an integral part of her territory. But, as I have already said, it is not my intention to record the history of those unjustifiable acts, and I will only call Your Excellency's attention to the difficulties presented by the tracing of any dividing line segregating Soconusco from the territory of Guatemala.

The clearer the demarkation of frontiers between adjacent countries, the fewer disputes will there be between frontier authorities, and all questions originating in the lack of precision of the dividing lines will be completely obviated. For this reason it has latterly become the custom among civilized nations to adopt, as such boundaries, degrees of longitude or latitude. Since this is not possible in the present case of the limits between Guatemala and Mexico, the line should be drawn as straight as possible, in view of the broken character of the region through which it must pass. The Department of Soconusco, on the southern coast, forms an angle entering the territory of Guatemala, of which the base is the river Ciutalapa, proceeding from the Bay of Zacapulco as far as the towns of Motocinta and Mazapan, and the vertex being formed by the mouth of the river Tilapa, in the Bay of Ocós. Consequently the base for the demarkation of the line from the Pacific Ocean should be the Bay of Zacapulco, tracing thence a straight line to the river Dolores, the recognized limit of the state of Chiapas. Guatemala could not accept the imperfection of a line starting from the Bay of Ocós, going thence north to Tajomulco, then receding eastward along the mountain chain of Tajomulco, and finally descending the river Blanco to Mazapan.

From the river Dolores to the Northern Sea, the undersigned proposes for basis for the tracing of a line the actual possession, with the understanding that a scientific commission should be appointed by agreement of both governments, in order to make the necessary surveys, and mark the definitive limits between Guatemala and Mexico in accordance with the bases above suggested.

Respecting treaties of friendship, commerce, and extradition and a postal convention, the undersigned abstains from speaking of them in the present memorandum, so as to proceed with order, making due separation between the subjects which have been intrusted to him.

(Signed)R. URIARTE.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico,October 9, 1875.

Sir: By direction of the President of the Republic, I now proceed to examine the note of Your Excellency, dated August 21, 1874, and the accompanying memorandum, on the contents of which I have made to Your Excellency some observations in private conferences. . . .

Entering upon the examination of the serious matter in question, I must immediately remind you that on October 20, 1873, I had the honor to address to Mr. Manuel Garcia Granados, then representative of Guatemala, the formal declaration that the Government of Mexico does not admit any discussion upon the legitimacy of the possession of Chiapas and Soconusco by the United States of Mexico. As that note was not answered, and since Your Excellency afterward arrived here in the high capacity of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, the Government of Mexico naturally believed that Guatemala desisted from the question formerly raised by her as to the incorporation of Chiapas and Soconusco, and that the mission of Your Excellency had for object the much desired settlement of boundaries. But the note and memorandum of Your Excellency reopen this discussion, and conclude by proposing to Mexico the loss of almost the whole of Soconusco, as well as a part of Chiapas and the payment of the debt for which that state is alleged to be responsible.

It would suffice for the Government of Mexico to refer to the formal declaration contained in the note of October 20, 1873; but, with the only object of preventing that decision from being deemed capricious or arbitrary, I proceed to state to Your Excellency the reasons which legalize the possession of Chiapas and Soconusco, without thereby modifying the sentiments expressed in 1873. The present exposition will set forth the sum of the rights which Mexico considers beyond question, and which she is resolved to sustain in the just defense of those important parts of the national territory, worthy for a thousand reasons of the esteem of our citizens and of the efficacious protection of the government. . . .

It is consequently proved that there were no such abuses (as have been alleged by Guatemala) in the incorporation of Chiapas and Soconusco; but even admitting, without conceding, that there was any irregularity, what does it avail in view of the solemn ratification based upon the acquiescence of the people of Chiapas and Soconusco? During fifty-one years the former, and during thirty-three years the latter,[1] have not made a single protest, have not expressed a single complaint, or manifested any dissatisfaction on account of their union with Mexico. They have suffered, like other Mexicans, the evils of civil war and of foreign invasions, they have enjoyed the benefits of liberty and felt the tyranny of dictatorship, and, with their talents in council and their blood in battles, have contributed to the defense of national interests.

As a State of the Federal Republic, as a Department of the Central Republic, Chiapas has remained, during the long period of our checkered political life, the same province which spontaneously united itself to Mexico on the 3d of September, 1821. When, in 1847, the Federal Government was reduced to a few cities, without an army and obliged to yield to the terrible law of war, why did Chiapas not separate from a nation so prostrated by misfortune? When, in 1865, the Federal Government was carried, by public misfortune, to Paso del Norte, why did not Chiapas, situated at the other extremity of the country, at a distance of eight hundred leagues, separate from a nation almost completely subjugated by a foreign power? These and other periods afforded extreme facilities for Chiapas, if, in her territory, there had existed any sentiment hostile to Mexico, to manifest it, or to indicate any desire to abandon the mother-country, which she freely adopted as her own, and to whose fortunes, prosperous or adverse, she has remained united with the most perfect liberty. If the state of Chiapas were situated in the center of the republic, it might be said, carrying suspicion beyond the limits of probability, that her hands were tied by her very position, since any movement on her part might be suppressed in a single day. But, being situated at the extremity of the country, and separated from the center by three hundred leagues of really difficult roads, her unshaken fidelity is not the effect of fear, but the worthy fruit of a sentiment as noble as it is spontaneous.

What reasons, said I in the note dated October 20, 1873, can be alleged in presence of so firm a will? What title can avail more than so constant a fidelity? What right more solid than that founded upon such a loyal and zealous patriotism? In fact, a simple doubt would be an offense, the more cruel when more undeserved, and this is one reason why the Government of Mexico can not admit any discussion upon the possession of Chiapas and Soconusco.[2]

Before entering upon the examination of the project of limits, I ought to reply to a charge unjustly made against the Republic of Mexico, attributing to its reluctance the delays experienced in this important business. From 1825 until the present day, Mexico has constantly proposed the immediate tracing of the limits. This appears from the notes of Mr. Alaman and the protocols of Messrs. Manuel Diez de Bonilla and Juan Nepomuceno de Pereda, envoys of Mexico in that republic. Guatemala, on the contrary, has ever avoided the tracing of limits, desiring the maintenance of the statu quo, and thus postponing indefinitely the solution of so important an affair.


These official documents fully prove who has been at fault in this delay. Mexico has constantly sought for the tracing of the limits, which she has considered as the only means of closing the door against claims which, though perchance of slight importance at the outset, are magnified by the lapse of time into affairs of great moment. Guatemala, on the contrary, has constantly refused the tracing of limits, and has always labored for the preservation of the statu quo, thus leaving open a wide door for quarrels between private individuals, which subsequently become conflicts between. Would the scandals of Bejucal, and so many others, which have given occasion to complaints, and even now demand the attention of the two countries, have taken place if the dividing line had been clearly fixed? But all the efforts of Mexico have been sterile in presence of the zeal with which Guatemala has sustained her fancied right to Chiapas and Soconusco. Hoping some day to recover these regions, or to obtain a pecuniary compensation for them, she has refused to put an end to an uncertainty harmful to both nations, and proposed the negotiation of treaties of a different character, which can be of no utility as long as the material possession, subject by law to the authority of each government, remains undefined. It is true, as Your Excellency says, that in 1854 Guatemala agreed to the incorporation of Chiapas and Soconusco, but she did not consent to the actual tracing of the limits, insisting, as before, upon the maintenance of the statu quo, as may be seen in Article I of the Memorandum by Mr. Pavon: "The limits between the two republics shall continue to be what they now are." This phrase clearly expresses the invariable idea of Guatemala, namely, not to trace her limits, and thus leave subsisting all the causes of difficulties, and all the elements of future conflicts, between the two nations. Moreover, the deference of Guatemala in 1854 had for its basis the proposed payment of a debt which Mexico can not recognize, and a claim upon unoccupied lands which can not even be discussed, since it has no foundation whatever. It is, in fact, difficult to discover the reasons which Guatemala has had for refusing the settlement of her limits, for it is not possible even to imagine that this refusal involves the idea of maintaining the rights hitherto alleged and the hopes hitherto cherished. It is, therefore, absolutely indispensable to put an end to a controversy which has caused such evils to both countries, and threatens others still more serious for the future welfare of two republics needing to live in the most perfect harmony.

Summing up all the argument of the present note, the following points have been proved:

1. Chiapas was a province on terms of equality with the others which formed the captaincy-general of Guatemala.

2. Chiapas, on the 3d of September, 1821, spontaneously separated from Guatemala and united herself to Mexico.

3. Chiapas, on the 12th of September, 1824, again united herself to the United States of Mexico, by the free vote of the majority of her inhabitants.

4. Soconusco, in 1821, was a partido of the intendency of Chiapas, and as such united herself to the Mexican Empire.

5. Soconusco, in 1824, was legitimately represented in the Supreme Junta of Chiapas, and freely voted for annexation to Mexico on the 3d of May.

6. The act signed at Tapachula, on the 24th of July, 1824, was a revolutionary document, and was illegal from every point of view.

7. Central America recognized the Supreme Junta of Chiapas, and offered to respect its determination.

8. The decree of August 18, 1824, by which the Federal Congress declared that Soconusco, by virtue of her pronunciamiento, had united with Central America, was a usurpation of the rights of Mexico.

9. The notes exchanged between the Ministers Alaman and Mayorga did not constitute a legal agreement.

10. The decree of October 31, 1825, by modifying the essence of the propositions of the Mexican Minister, left them without effect.

11. The neutrality in which Soconusco remained de facto was many times violated by Guatemala.

12. No act of Mexican authorities recognizing such neutrality could be valid, since any treaty required the approbation of Congress.

13. Mexico was under no obligation to respect such neutrality. Consequently, when she occupied Soconusco in 1842, she infringed no international compact, and only made use of the right given her by the vote of May 3d, and the declaration of September 12, 1824

14. Soconusco, in 1842, was free to unite herself again to Mexico; for; even supposing legitimate the act of July, 1824, the district was thereby united to Central America, not to Guatemala; therefore, when that federation was dissolved, Guatemala had no rights of any kind.

15. The military pressure, the intrigues, and other abuses which Guatemala has imputed to Mexico are not proved, while, on the contrary, it is proved that in September, 1824, there were no Mexican troops in Chiapas, and that those commanded by Colonel Aguayo in 1842 were invited thither by the inhabitants of Soconusco.

16. Any supposable irregularity in the incorporation of Chiapas and of Soconusco has been entirely validated by the constant union of those regions during fifty-one years in the first case, and during thirty-three years in the second case,[3] in which lapse of time they have not presented a single complaint nor indicated any repugnance to continue attached to the Mexican Republic.

17. Respecting the public lands, the claim of Guatemala is entirely inadmissible, since she has no rights whatever upon the territory of Chiapas.

18. The debt of Chiapas is included in that of Mexico, which is consequently not responsible for it to Guatemala; from whom she might, on the contrary, more properly demand a certain amount, as the difference between that debt and the general one of Central America.

19. The delays of so many years in the settlement of this question are due to Guatemala, who has always opposed the tracing of limits, which has continually been urged by the Government of Mexico.

The facts being thus cleared up, and the right of Mexico to Chiapas and Soconusco being solidly established, I proceed to treat of the question concerning the adjustment of limits between the frontier states of both republics, in order to terminate, in a practical manner, this prolonged subject of controversy.


I renew to Your Excellency my very distinguished consideration.

(Signed)J. M. LAFRAGUA.

To His Excellency Mr. Ramon Uriarte, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Guatemala.[4]

  1. This was written in 1875. Now, in 1881, the possession by Mexico has lasted fifty-seven years in one case and thirty-nine years in the other
  2. There are several reasons why Mexico could not, even if she would, enter into any discussion upon the legitimacy of her long-continued possession of Chiapas and Soconnsco. The most apparent is, that the constitution of the Mexican Republic enumerates Chiapas (including Soconusco) among the States of the Union. Consequently there is a constitutional impediment, quite unsurmountable, for the Government of Mexico to discuss, before an arbitration or otherwise, the untimely question now raised by Guatemala. She urges that the said government, to gratify some long-cherished fancies of Guatemalan politicians, should submit to trample upon the national constitution (and forget its dignity) by discussing, without any authority to do so, a point settled alike by that instrument and by time, the great legitimator of all possessions in the world, even when their title is less clear than that of Mexico to her present State of Chiapas.
  3. Now, in 1881, these periods are respectively 57 and 39 years.
  4. This dispatch has not been answered by Guatemala.