Chamizal Dispute: The Forgotten Century Long Border Conflict

In a Nutshell

The Chamizal dispute is a forgotten border conflict between the United States and Mexico concerning 600 acres of land. The dispute lasted about a century and almost caused the assassination of President Taft and Mexico’s President Porfirio Díaz in 1909. The century-long dispute held a lot of twists and turns for both the United States and Mexico.

The Whole Bushel

The 600 acres of land rested between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. It is a stretch of land which you might wonder why the United States and Mexico spent nearly a century fighting for. The land is not only lacking natural resources but it is also unusable as farming land.

The dispute originally started in the mid-1800s with the shifting of the Rio Grande, leaving the 600 acres stuck between a river bank and dry river bed. The land became known as the Chamizal. The problem was that the newly formed land that occurred from the shift was claimed by both the United States and Mexico. The problem became even bigger when Americans began to settle in the Chamizal and merged the land into the city of El Paso. This did not sit well with the Mexican Government, who contacted the International Boundary Commission in 1895. The International Boundary Commission is a group of the United States and Mexican officials.

In 1899, the International Boundary Commission enhanced the Chamizal dispute when they redirected the Rio Grande through a cement track in order to avoid future flooding. While this action was supported by both the United States and Mexico it also sent some of Mexico’s land, known as the Cordova Island, into United States territory.

In 1909, United States President Howard Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz met for the first time to try to settle the dispute. While they met on neutral territory, security was heavy on both sides. During the meeting, a Texas Ranger noticed a man holding a pistol. Security was notified and the man was arrested within feet of Presidents Taft and Diaz. In the end, tensions were still high between the two countries.

In 1911, an arbitration commission was set up by both the United States and Mexico. The mission was to resolve the Chamizal dispute for good. A few months later, the commission reached a verdict, mostly siding with Mexico. However, the United States rejected the verdict and United States citizens continued to live on the land.

The rest of the early 1900s saw various problems for both countries. First, the Mexican Revolution occurred, which meant Mexico spent very little time worrying about the Chamizal. The United States made alcohol illegal so Cordova Island became a trouble spot with alcohol. Drug trafficking on the United States and Mexican border became an issue in the 1920s. Then in 1924, the Immigration Law was signed on the United States side and Cordova Island became an easy way to illegally cross the border.

In 1932, the United States tried once again to gain the land from Mexico, this time through buying the land. However, Mexico remembered how much land they lost to America through the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. This treaty ended the Mexican-American War by adding 525,000 square miles to the United States. Therefore, Mexico denied the sale of land. In September of 1964, the dispute finally ended with United States President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexico President Adolfo López Mateos meeting on the land. The two presidents came to an agreement by splitting the land between the two countries.

Show me the Proof

How a Forgotten Border Dispute Tormented U.S.-Mexico Relations for 100 Years [Link]
The Chamizal Dispute 1911-1963 [Link]
Negotiating the Mexican-American Border: the Case of Chamizal [Link]