Mr. Lazo Arriaga to Mr. Gresham.


Mr. Secretary: In compliance with the instructions of my Government I had the honor, in some of our interviews, to lay before your excellency the various incidents having a bearing on the present threatening attitude of the Government of Mexico toward Guatemala; and following the suggestion of your excellency, I consign my views to writing herein.

In 1881 the relations between Guatemala and Mexico became very delicate by reason of the old and troublesome boundary question between the two countries.

Thanks to the good offices of the Government of the United States a war was then avoided, and there was signed in New York by the plenipotentiaries of both Republics, on the 12th of August, 1882, the preliminary basis of a final boundary treaty.

This basis embraced the waiver by Guatemala of its rights to the State of Chiapas and its district of Soconusco, which at the date of the declaration of independence (September 15, 1821) were an integral part of Central America. It was stipulated farther that:

Article IV. In the event of the two contracting parties not being able to agree with respect to the fixing of the boundary either in whole or in part between the State of Chiapas and its department of Soconusco, on the part of Mexico on the one hand and on that of the Republic of Guatemala on the other, or in case the commissioners who shall be appointed by each Government to draw, conjointly, the dividing line, shall differ on any point or points relative to such drawing, and in case it shall be necessary to appoint an arbitrator to settle such differences as may arise on this account, both Governments agree to do so, and to request the President of the United States of America to act as such arbitrator.

Article V. Actual possession shall serve as a basis in the drawing line. This, however, shall not prevent both parties from abandoning this basis by common consent, for the purpose of following natural lines, or for any other reason, and in such case the system of mutual compensations shall be adopted.

Until the dividing line shall have been drawn, each contracting party shall respect the actual possession of the other. (House of Representatives, Forty-eighth Congress, Ex. Doc. No. 154.)

On the 27th of September of the same year the final boundary treaty, to which the aforesaid convention refers, was signed in Mexico, which, in defining the boundary, among other things, says (clause 4, Article III), that one of the lines shall be “the parallel of latitude which crosses the last-named point (4 kilometers from the Ixbul line) eastward until it reaches the deepest point of the River Usumacinta, or the Chixoy, in case said parallel does not cross the first named river.”

[Page 767]

The Guatemalan and Mexican commission of engineers, although working separately, found no difficulty in running the first part of the dividing line; but when they reached the Chixoy River the Mexican engineers desired to prolong the parallel to the Caneuen or La Pasion River, to which the Guatemalan engineers objected, inasmuch as the Usumacinta River, not being in that direction but lying to the north of said parallel, the latter should end, according to the provisions of the boundary treaty, at the said Chixoy River.

The carrying of such parallel beyond the Chixoy River, attempted by the Mexican engineers under the mistaken impression that the Cancuen or La Pasion River is the Usumacinta, would deprive Guatemala of an extent of territory of more than a thousand square miles to which Mexico had never laid claim, and what is worse, would cut off communication between the Guatemalan district of Peten and the rest of the Republic, which would imply the loss to the latter of that vast region.

The Government of Guatemala protested emphatically against the prolongation of said parallel beyond the Chixoy, and that of Mexico, through an agreement known as The “Dieguez-Mariscál,” concluded in 1890, concurred in not carrying said parallel beyond the Chixoy River, albeit under condition that no subsequent difficulties should present themselves in the running of the line.

Difficulties could not present themselves, for the rest of the boundary line is formed by the Chixoy and Usumacinta rivers, which are natural boundaries, and because the two farthest parallels to the north of Peten, having to be run in accordance with the principles of science, can offer no impediment.

As a fact, both commissions of engineers, on running the rest of the line, only found small differences, which are easily remediable, consisting, first, in the astronomical determination of the geographical location of the rivers, which, in accordance with the treaty, the Guatemalan commission desired to do and to which the Mexican objected; and secondly, in that, as nearly always happens in such cases, owing to the different instruments used by engineers, the results obtained by both commissions do not agree entirely.

The Guatemalan commission of engineers always worked one or two years ahead of the Mexican, and the Government of Guatemala, in the desire to at once settle the troublesome boundary question, proposed to that of Mexico, under date of April 13, 1893, that, to avoid objections, the average of the astronomical results obtained by both commissions in the parallels to the north of Peten be adopted; that the geographical location of the rivers be immediately determined, and that Mexico unconditionally cease her attempt to prolong the Chixoy parallel to the east of the river of that name.

Although this proposition was nothing more than equitable, and in harmony with what the most eminent engineers recommend to overcome the differences resulting in astronomical work, the Government of Mexico abstained for a long time from giving a categorical reply to the proposition of the Government Guatemala.

In the meantime both countries, pursuant to the stipulations in force, have retained the right of possession over those regions which previous to concluding the treaty were under their jurisdiction, although a part thereof, after the determining of the boundary line, should pass from one to the other.

By the exercise of their right Mexican authorities have been granting concessions of lumber camps in territory which will go to Guatemala, and, with equal right, Guatemalan authorities have granted [Page 768] concessions on lands which will pass to Mexico whenever the boundary line shall be legally established.

There is a region, comprised between the frontier, always recognized as the boundary between Guatemala and the State of Chiapas on one side and the Lacantuum and Usumacinta rivers on the other, over which Guatemala has exercised jurisdiction from time immemorial.

Several times during the past twenty years parties protected by Mexican authorities have invaded that territory and illegally established thereon lumber camps; but the Guatemalan authorities have resisted the invasion, not only without protest, but with the assent of the Mexican Government, as may be demonstrated by several official acts.

A few months since, however, Mexican citizens invaded this territory anew at points called Egipto, Agua Azul, etc., and they were again opposed by Guatemalan authorities, the Government of Guatemala immediately addressing to that of Mexico a protest against the trespass and requesting necessary explanations; but the Government of Mexico, instead of giving due explanations, now claims that it is the owner of that territory, and that Guatemala is the trespasser. Under this pretext Mexico began to make military preparations, and, it is said, has continued to send troops to the frontier, even when she knows that there are no Guatemalan forces in the territory she now claims belongs to her.

While the Government of Guatemala was hastening to send a special commissioner to Mexico for the purpose of settling pending difficulties, of which fact the Government of Mexico was informed, the latter has notified that of Guatemala that it will not abide by the obligation it contracted through the “Dieguez-Mariscál” arrangement to not insist upon prolonging the parallel above referred to beyond the Chixoy River. This evidently in cans that the Government of Mexico is again attempting to take from Guatemala the territory comprised between the Chixoy and the Cancuen or La Pasion rivers, thus justifying the assumption that the difficulties which it has brought about through the lumber camps in Egipto and Agua Azul had as an object ulterior purposes.

As may be seen from the preceding recital of facts, prior to the recent ignoring by the Government of Mexico of the Dieguez-Mariscál arrangement there were no serious difficulties existing between it and that of my country. For this reason the Government of Guatemala saw with surprise the message which President Diaz sent on the 16th of September last to the Congress of the United Mexican States, especially the part referring to the relations of the two Republics, with which document my Government only became acquainted at the end of the month of October, since communication between the two countries is slow.

For this very reason, Senor Dn. Emilio de Leon, special envoy of Guatemala, although he took passage at our port of San Jose in the middle of the present month, can not reach the City of Mexico until the beginning of December, and when he shall fully set forth to the Government of the United Mexican States the grounds, founded on reason and justice, upon which Guatemala’s case in this particular rests, the hope is entertained that the settlement of pending difficulties will be easy and the threatening attitude which the Government of the neighboring Republic has assumed with respect to Guatemala will be changed.

The map which I took the liberty to leave in your excellency’s hands and the copy I have the honor to transmit now will contribute to a clearer idea of the present status of the case.

The preliminary basis of New York as well as the final Boundary [Page 769] treaty, mentioned herein, are published in the pamphlet entitled Boundary between Mexico and Guatemala” (Forty-eighth Congress, first session, Ex. Doc. No. 154), where there may also be found a great part of the official correspondence relating to this subject.

Guatemala, as she has always manifested, highly appreciates and is deeply grateful for the good offices and friendly attitude of the United States, which on several occasions, and especially in 1881, 1885, and 1887, prevented a conflict between the two countries, and which, in 1882, contributed to the bringing about of an agreement for the concluding of the preliminary basis and the final boundary treaty; and it is for this reason that my Government, which recognizes in that of the United States the natural protector of the peace of the continent, instructs me to lay before your excellency the latest phases of this troublesome question.

Guatemala, Mr. Secretary, still entertains the hope that the Government of Mexico will not oppose a settlement of the pending differences, and that, in case a direct agreement can not be reached, Mexico will embrace the idea of appealing, for the final settlement of the boundary question, to the reasonable and civilized medium of arbitration; but if the efforts which my Government will continue to make in this direction should unhappily prove fruitless, and the Government of Mexico shall be set upon appealing to the violent and disastrous medium of war, which would embody views of conquest, the Guatemalan people and Government, whatever the outcome of so unequal a struggle, which would be a new scandal in America, will know how to go to the extent of sacrifice against a foreign aggression which would be also a menace to the integrity and the independence of all the Republics of Central America.

I improve this opportunity to renew, etc.,

Antonio Lazo Arriaga.