File No. 714.1515/34

The Special Mission of Guatemala to the Secretary of State


report on the boundary question between the republics of guatemala and honduras

The discovery and conquest of the territory now comprising Central America was effected almost simultaneously from various directions. Gil Gonzáles Dávila overran Costa Rica and Nicaragua during the [Page 767] years 1522 and 1523, and on his second voyage entered Honduras as far as Olancho. In 1524, on his third visit, he reached Puerto Caballos, established a colony there near Cape Tres Puntas and then retired to Olancho, for purposes of personal profit.

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who, in 1523, took the same route as Dávila had in his first voyages, founded several villages.

Cristobal de Olid, sent in 1523 by Cortés to the north coast of Honduras, followed the footsteps of Dávila on his last trip, founded in 1524 the settlement of the Triunfo de la Cruz and took formal possession of the territory in the name of Cortés.

Pedro de Alvarado, who in 1523 and 1524 left Mexico by order of this same Cortés, effected the true conquest of Guatemala from Soconusco to the kingdom of the Quichés, the Cachiqueles and the Tentuhiles; he traversed, conquering at the same time, the southern section of Guatemala and Salvador, to the extreme eastern end and then returned for the purpose of establishing the capital of the province.

The excursions of Dávila served only to open the way for those who followed in his footsteps, conquering these lands. He left no other proof of his passage than that of the establishment of a colony, probably with the only object of getting rid of certain useless individuals who accompanied him, whom he left in an exposed location on the coast, on boggy soil, and isolated from the native settlements where they might have been able to encounter means of subsistence. To this colony he gave the name of San Gil de Buenavista; it was situated close to Cape Tres Puntas, and it was so short lived that when two years later Cortés arrived in Honduras, it had been for a long time abandoned by its settlers. Bancroft, in Vol. VI of his history says:

San Gil de Buenavista was settled near Cape Tres Puntas in 1523 by Gil Gonzáles Dávila, before possession of these lands had been taken by Cristobal de Olid, in the King’s name.

It was, in reality, Cristobal de Olid who established the Province of Honduras and not Dávila, as has been stated by some Honduran writer, claiming that the King had assigned to that province all the lands discovered by Dávila; this is all the more incorrect because the territory of Costa Rica and Nicaragua traversed by Dávila, without authority to take possession of them, did not form part of the province, by consent of the King; he was only given the government of Nicaragua, which he never took possession of, due to the fact that he died previous thereto.

Cristobal de Olid was desirous of disavowing the authority of Cortés, and upon the latter learning of this he sent Francisco de las Casas to punish him. After various incidents, foreign to the matter in question, Olid imprisoned las Casas and Dávila, but shortly afterwards they escaped from him and then executed him in the village of Naco. They then left for Mexico, leaving Juan López de Aguirre, as governor of the district, who was substituted a few days after by Captain Juan Ruano, who was soon deposed by the colonists.

Acquainted with the treachery of Olid, Cortés marched into Honduras from Mexico, which latter country he had succeeded in subduing, arriving more than two years later at the village Nito, located on the edge of the Dulce River, near its mouth, the spot which the colonists left by Gil Gonzáles at San Gil de Buenavista, had chosen for their refuge, and who, assisted by Cortés, were removed to [Page 768] Trujillo and to Naco. Cortés appointed Hernando de Saavedra governor of Honduras, and then returned to Mexico.

In the meantime Alvarado was engaged in the conquest of Guatemala, carrying it to the north as far as Huehuetenango and Uspantan; later on he carried it to the Canales Mountains to the east of what is now the capital, and even later yet effected the conquest of Chiquimula, Copán, Mictlán and Esquipulas as far as Citalá in the now Republic of Salvador, close to the Lempa River.

The Government of Honduras in the hands of Saavedra was disputed by Pedrarias Dávila, claiming that it belonged to Nicaragua. Dávila also disputed the matter with Saavedra’s successor, Diego Lopez de Salcedo, and the result of these squabbles among the Spaniards was an uprising of the natives, who killed a number of the Spaniards in Trujillo, Natividad (formerly Puerto Caballos) and in Olancho. Salcedo, taking the position that Gil Gonzáles Dávila was the first to visit Nicaragua, marched to Leon and took possession of the government for several years until 1530, when he returned to Trujillo, dying there, and leaving the Government of Honduras in the hands of Andrés de Cereceda,

Disputes regarding the Government of Honduras continued among the Spaniards which caused new uprisings among the natives who engaged in serious conflicts with the Spaniards.

The abuses committed by Cereceda in Honduras forced his colonists to ask for assistance from Guatemala; but Alvarado had already made up his mind to take possession of the province. He marched into Honduras and arrived at Naco, took charge of the government, and ordered the founding of the city of Gracias, conquering at the same time a multitude of villages. This conquest was authorized by Real Cédula of 1532. Alvarado left immediately for Spain and a short time after Francisco de Montejo arrived at Naco, appointed by the King as governor of the province. Montejo founded the town of Comayagua and tranquilized a part of the country until the return of Alvarado from Spain in 1539.

By this time the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras had been separated. Gil Gonzáles Dávila was made governor of the first in 1526, but due to the fact that he died during the meantime the government was left in the hands of Pedrarias Dávila from 1527.

The conquest of the rest of Guatemala was carried as far as Verapaz. Alvarado upon his return to this province, restored to its government in 1538, opened up in his passage the road from Puerto Cortés to Sula, from which point he went on to Gracias. In the latter place he arranged with Montejo for an exchange of governments, giving that of Chiapas for that of Honduras, by which means the latter was united to Guatemala.

After the death of Alvarado in 1541 the Government of Honduras and that of Guatemala were separated in 1542, and both countries from that time were definitely separated.

The foregoing is a résumé of existing conditions up to the time the Provinces of Honduras and Guatemala were constituted as such, and the boundaries separating them were in fact determined. The conquered territory of Guatemala included the villages of Chiquimula, Copán and Esquipulas to Citalá. That of Honduras extended to Sula, Naco and Gracias. The boundary between the two sections is the mountain ridge of Merendén in its greater part, or in other words [Page 769] that part which extends to the southwest; and if in the northeastern extremity, that is, along the coast, Gil Gonzáles Dávila established the village of San Gil de Buenavista to the west of it, near Cape Tres Puntas, and which was made to appear as of Honduras in an allotment of villages made by Alvarado when he subdued this Province, yet its existence was of such short duration, as has been stated above, that when Cortés reached Honduras from Mexico it had already ceased to be, and its discouraged colonists, some 60 men and 20 women, according to the account of Cortés to the King, had taken refuge in Nito in order that they might exist by the assistance of the inhabitants of that village, not being able to do this by themselves. There remains no vestige of the exact spot where the settlement of San Gil was made, and it is probable that it did not exist at the time Alvarado made his allotment. In any event, even if the settlement had existed, it should not form part of the territory of Honduras, because the taking of possession of these lands by Olid and his conquest effected subsequent to the arrival of Cortés, was made from Puerto Cortés southward and eastward, and did not extend to the west of that port and from the village of Naco.

Among the native groups populating Central America when the Spaniards arrived there were the Chortis, descendants of the Yucatan Indians, who had settled the locality now known as the Department of Chiquimula, extending throughout the valleys of Copán as far as the mountain range. The ruins at Quiriqua, Chapulco and Copán show that they belong to a single epoch in history and to a certain specific civilization of that race.

Bancroft, in his History of America (Vol. I, Wild Tribes) says:

The Chortis live on the banks of the Motagua River. The Chiquimula Indians belong to the Chorti nation. * * * The Xicaques exist in the district lying between the Ulua River and the Tinto River. * * * It seems probable that the Xicaques were once much more widely diffused, extending over the plains of Olancho and in the Department of Nueva Segovia in Nicaragua. * * *

From this paragraph it is to be inferred that the boundaries of the aboriginal races on these lands was fixed by the Merendén ridge of mountains.

The consecutive acts of dominion in the Provinces of Guatemala and Honduras, by the civil authorities as well as by the ecclesiastical, were not extended by either parties beyond the mountain range.

Only on the coast, where the mountain range spreads out, forming the group of mountains known by the name of Omoa, the jurisdiction of Honduras hugs the slopes of these to the west as far as Omoa, these lands reaching to the mouth of the rivulet Cuyamel and even to the mouth of the Motagua, but without exercising any control whatever of the interior lands to the northwest of the valley of the Chamelecón River. This is inferred from several documents from which we have taken the following information:

At the instance of the President of Guatemala, by virtue of a Real Cédula, there was made in 1684 a list of the villages and of the inhabitants of all the provinces and Alcaldías Mayores. In that of Comayagua are to be found the cities of Gracias and San Pedro, and in the latter the ports of Caballos, Omoa and Trujillo and the month of the Ulua River. The fact that no mention is made of the mouth of the Motagua, a river as important as the Ulua, proves that the [Page 770] jurisdiction of San Pedro did not extend to that point. In another list of the cities, towns and places in the Province of Honduras, made in 1689, the same reference is made to these places and ports, and to the Ulua River alone.

Again, in 1772, the Governor of Honduras wrote an account of a visit he had made through his province, and it shows that he did not cross the Chamelecón River, which he ordered to be guarded, probably as the boundary of his authority.

In 1792, under orders from President Don Bernardo Troncoso, the engineer Antonio Perta, made a survey of the coast from Omoa to Manabique Point and from the mouth of the Motagua River to where it joins the River Chico Zapote, fourteen leagues from Guatemala. The statement is made in this account:

From Punta Gorda to the mouth of the Motagua River are found the Chachagual, Cuyamel and Tinto Rivers. * * * From the mouth of this river (the Motagua) to where it joins the river Nuevo is a distance of ten leagues. * * * The River Nuevo, given this name by the inhabitants of the village of Gualán, who go there every year to fish. * * * There is also to be found the valley of Santa Catarina, where the ranches and haciendas of the inhabitants of Gualán begin to appear, and these people go down the river in canoes to do their planting and where they remain a good part of the year. * * * Both banks of the River Grande (the Motagua) are covered by ranches or haciendas of the inhabitants of Gualán.

From this survey there resulted the formation in Guatemala of a navigation company on the Motagua, which was carried through by means of a Real Cédula, and considerable success was obtained by it in the movement of merchandise from Gualán to Omoa. In none of the documents which treat of the subject is the least mention made of the River Motagua belonging to Honduras, nor yet that it constitutes the dividing line between that province and Guatemala; and if either one of these circumstances existed it would have been so stated, in view of the prerogatives each exercised over its own territory and the lack of authority each had over the territory of the others, without previous and explicit royal authority.

Going back to the seventeenth century, it would be well to mention that in 1604, there was discovered, by order of Alonzo Criado de Castilla, Governor of Guatemala, the port of Santo Tomás, which formed part of this territory. The Bishop of Comayagua claimed that these lands pertained to his jurisdiction, but when the President of the Audiencia communicated to the King the knowledge of its discovery he asked that the port be made an Alcaldía Mayor and of the jurisdiction of Guatemala, as was the gulf, and not that of Honduras. And this must have been confirmed by the King, because from that time to the present authority direct from the capital has been exercised there. In his report the President adds:

Near this new port it will be possible to effect navigation along a river there located to any point where merchandise may be had to bring and carry same to and from this city (Guatemala) in this way saving a great deal of travel by land.

This, without doubt, refers to the Motagua River, there being no other such in that section and still less with such qualifications; from this it may be inferred that the dominion of Honduras did not extend to this river, and even its name does not appear sure.

There exists other good proof of the rights of Guatemala to all this territory, which is the following: In 1856 there was published a book entitled “Notes on Central America, particularly the States of Honduras [Page 771] and San Salvador” by E. G. Squier, translated by a Honduran, in which are set forth very important data, as follows:

Much of the data given on the map (made by the author) within the limits of the Department of Gracias, are taken from that made by José María Cacho in 1834, now Secretary of State of Honduras. * * * The Republic of Honduras comprises the territory which belonged to it as a province. Its boundary on the north and east is the Bay of Honduras and the Caribbean Sea, extending from the mouth of the Tinto River to Cape Gracias a Diós (referring to Guatemala). * * * along the Merendén mountain chain and that of Grita, embracing Copán ruins, almost fifteen miles to the southeast to the head of the little River Tinto which flows into the Bay of Honduras. * * * Leaving the high plateaus of Guatemala this line (the mountain range) follows a course almost easterly until it reaches the frontier of Honduras, from whence it goes to the southeast, where a great spur, not inferior in elevation to the Sierra Madre, runs from the east northward to the Bay of Honduras. At the point of separation this line is called the Merendén mountain, in other places La Grita and down near the coast the Mountain of Espíritu Santo. On the same coast where it reaches the majestic altitude of seven or eight thousand feet they are called the mountains of Omoa. Along its northern base runs the Motagua river, which rises near Guatemala City and flows into the Bay of Honduras. * * * The Department of Gracias is at the northwest corner of the State, touching San Salvador and Guatemala. It is the only one regarding which we have been able to obtain exact data. This is due to José María Cacho, now Secretary of State of Honduras, who as Jefe Politico of this Department in 1834 performed his duty. * * * To the north is the line of Merendén which runs from the boundary of Salvador to the Bay of Honduras, a distance of 150 miles. It is known by various names at different points, such as Merendén, Gallinero, Grita, Espíritu Santo and Omoa. There are no villages in these mountains with the exception of a small hamlet called Dolores Merendén. At their base to the north there are several beautiful valleys, among which is found Copán, famous for its ruins. To the west of the Merendén mountains, and from the mountain passes flow the small Rivers Gila and Gualán which empty into the Motagua. Along the eastern base of the same ridge runs the Chamelecón River, which rises a few leagues to the north of the city of Santa Rosa. * * *

To this point the work of Mr. Squier takes the subject. It must be taken into account that the able author of this and other works, was an American citizen, charged with a diplomatic mission in Central America, and in making the statement as to the boundary line which separated Guatemala from Honduras, he must have done so with a complete knowledge of the subject, and to this effect took the data which was published on the question of the boundary by a reputable Honduran, none other than the former Jefe Politico of the Department of Gracias and Secretary of State of the Government of Honduras at the time Mr. Squier compiled his book. Two corrections should be made to the statements of this author: one where he refers to the Tinto River, which has been taken as the boundary after the mountain range by him and by other authors, perhaps arbitrarily or possibly in confounding it with the Cuyamel River; and the other that the valley and ruins of Copán are not located, as he states, to the east of the mountain range, or within Honduran territory, but to the west on Guatemalan territory. For the rest there are no discrepancies between the boundaries given and those acknowledged by Guatemala. What Mr. Squier and Mr. Cacho have stated constitute plain proof of the boundary lines which separate Honduras from Guatemala.

Regarding the valley of Copán and its ruins, Guatemala has very solid arguments for considering herself the owner of these lands. Of these it has been said that at times they have belonged to Honduras and at other times to Guatemala. This it seems must have occurred, though, probably, only in fact on the part of Honduras. At the beginning they were a part of Guatemala through their conquest; [Page 772] nevertheless shortly thereafter they were undoubtedly joined to Honduras, as the statement is made that they formed a part of the latter in a report sent at that time to the King by a commissioner who visited both provinces.

It is not known to what jurisdiction they belonged during the succeeding years, but the fact remains that in the 18th century they belonged to Guatemala. In the second volume of the visit of the Archbishop, written by Doctor Pedro Cortés y Larras, pages 207 to 219, is found the account of that of the parish of Jocotán, verified March 31 and April 1, 1769: at the beginning of which among other things is the following statement:

That the parish of Jocotán is formed by two villages joined together, one that of San Juan Camotan and the other San Juan Ermita. The village of Camotan extending towards the east is about half a quarter of a league distant from this point. * * * The valley of Copán extends to the east, and from this point to the last settlement in this valley is a distance of 12 leagues. The valley contains eleven haciendas, and is three leagues wide by six leagues long. * * * In this district are the haciendas mentioned. * * * In the valley of Copán there are nineteen families of ladinos. * * * In the valley of Copán the territory of this parish, lives Don Ramon Lugo. * * * And in compliance with the orders of his illustrious lordship, the 22d of the present month, done at Guatemala August 25, 1847. Antonio Latona, Notary Public.

In 1784 Cayetano Frances y Monroy formed the Estado General of the archbishopric of Guatemala, in which the valleys of Copán and Tanco, with the list of their inhabitants, appear as annexed to the parish of Jocotán (Guatemala).

Also in 1791, in a letter of the Bishop of Comayagua to the King, in which are mentioned the towns and valleys of his jurisdiction, no mention is made of Copán as belonging to Gracias, although mention was made of others of less importance.

To the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century would correspond what the historian Juarros states respecting Copán:

This place which today bears only the title of valley, is located on the dividing line of the Provinces of Chiquimula and Comayagua; so that at times it has belonged to the first and at other times to the second of these provinces.

If, in addition, it is taken into account that, according to the map of the ecclesiastic vicarages which existed in the Curia (Ecclesiastic tribunal) of Guatemala since before the year 1857, these valleys were even then a part of the parish of Jocotán, it must be inferred that they have never ceased to belong to Guatemala, legally, although on various occasions they have appeared to be a part of Honduras.

Don Antonio Vallejo, an illustrious Honduran, who worked faithfully for his Government in the matter of the boundaries of his country, endeavoring always to procure their wider extension, has made us his debtors for the following statement, recently published in a newspaper of Tegucigalpa, and which serves as a complement to the paragraphs above given relative to the jurisdiction of the church:

In order to avoid contention and delay in the administration of justice, there was issued in 1571 the Ordinance IV, which is Law 7, Chapter 2, Vol. 2, “Recopilación de Indias” which is the definite and fundamental statute for surveying the boundaries of the provinces of America, and which today serves as a guide for the survey of questions which arise from territorial circumscriptions, and which orders that great care be taken in making the boundaries outlined for the exercise of the spiritual authority of the bishoprics and archbishoprics agree with those of the governors, inferior courts and viceroys, and vice versa. So that in determining the limits of the dioceses, the others were determined also, and it is [Page 773] noted that as time progressed this principle became yet more accentuated, serving as a step forward in the path of progress and also as an homage to civilization.

The Royal Cédula, decreed in 1571, contains an express command that all boundaries of the jurisdictions of the Church shall be conformed to by temporal authorities, in order that annoyances may be avoided in the administrative routine, of the colonies. Bear in mind that the jurisdiction of the bishop cannot extend beyond his diocese, according to the canonical law. * * * The establishment of intendants in 1786 introduced no modifications, separations nor divisions of any kind in the boundaries which had been assigned to Honduras; on the contrary they maintained the same territorial integrity which had been granted to the diocese of the bishop, so that the boundary of the bishopric was also that of the governor intendant, and the limits of the dioceses served as a basis for the ordinances decreed for the intendants in making the later divisions, both political and administrative.

The Boundary Treaty between Guatemala and Honduras of 1845, in Article XIII says:

The States of Honduras and Guatemala recognize as their boundaries those shown by the dioceses of each, in the Royal Decree of Intendants of 1786.

Dr. Vallejo, Director of Statistics of Honduras and an assiduous researcher of documents bearing on the boundaries of his country, took charge of the work of demonstrating Guatemala’s position in maintaining as her boundaries those which had pertained to the dioceses and in her claim relative to the valley of Copán.

There is still other data: In a detailed report of the new railway between Guatemala and Omoa, by the Engineer Luis Diaz Navarro, in 1746, it states:

It is five leagues from the valley of Copán to the foot of the mountain and from the latter point to the eastern border is another five leagues, making ten leagues of roadway newly opened by Don Angel and it was the first made because there was a great deal of underbrush and thicket which impeded the way. These ten leagues are to be kept clean and in order by the companies of the valleys or Copán, Jocotán and Camotán, governed by Feliciano Lugo, the Sergeant Major of that section. From the mountain pass of Copán on this side to the east, to the valley of Venta is an old roadway and this has been repaired in places and cleared of underbrush in some places where needed, making the highway mentioned in the journal; this is some 18 leagues long and once made requires little attention; the duty of keeping it in condition pertains to the companies of Omojoco, Guancire and Pinal.

It is inferred from this report that the roadway leading to Copán from the mountain pass (the Merendén range) to the west should be maintained by the people of Guatemala and from the mountain to the east, by the people of Honduras; this indirectly indicates the jurisdiction of each of the provinces.

Attention is called to the fact that Copán, her ruins, and many adjoining valleys are today in possession of Honduras, who has, day by day, and foot by foot, extended her domain over this region, regardless of the continued protests of Guatemala, who has always tried to avoid a conflict between the two countries. Honduras has also for the past few years had possession of the right bank of the Tinto River up to the place where it joins the Motagua, and she is today trying to extend her domain further to the south all along the right bank of the Motagua River; to all of which Guatemala has reiterated her protests. It should be borne in mind that Guatemala constructed a portion of her railway to the Atlantic on that side of the Motagua more than thirty years ago; more than half a century ago she developed the gold washing basins of this region; for fifteen years she has made concessions for the timber lands of the western slopes of the mountain range and has transferred title to these lands [Page 774] to a great number of people and corporations at all times, before and since her independence from Spain; and to all these acts of dominion on the part of Guatemala Honduras has never raised a protest, for the excellent reason that all that side of the mountain range to the banks of the Motagua River has been recognized by every one as an integral part of the Republic of Guatemala. Only a few months ago Honduras granted a concession to a railroad company for this same region and ordered the surveying of lands upon those already conceded by Guatemala, entering her villages with an armed force and inciting to conflict, which Guatemala up to this time has tried to prevent.

This is the condition in which is found the boundary question between Guatemala and Honduras. The desire of the first named to reach a definite understanding is shown by the acts of the boundary commissions during their work which was carried out by virtue of the three treaties signed by both countries; there can also be seen, from the same acts and related facts, the desire of Honduras to create difficulties and disturb the harmony so desirable for both countries and so necessary for the latter Republic.

There is still a reference to be made to the condition of the boundary question on a small part of the frontier, that is the more southerly part, in which the Merendén range does not figure as a boundary line. This range has a starting point to which both parties are in complete conformity. From this point, which is called Cerro Obscuro, the line runs straight in a more or less southwesterly direction until it touches the ravine called La Brea, a point also recognized, and follows along this ravine downstream, without dispute. The boundary commissioners who, from both countries, discussed, this frontier in 1847 under the treaty of 1845, agreed by an act signed by all of them that the boundary line separating Honduras from Guatemala should begin at the boundary landmark with El Salvador, called the Cuchilla de las Dantas and continue northwest to the Mojanal mountain; thence to the passage of the roadway from Esquipulas to Ocotapeque, in the ravine La Brea. This convention was not respected by Honduras, who shortly thereafter extended this boundary over into Guatemala, embracing a considerable amount of land, cultivated and inhabited by the people of Esquipulas, paying no attention whatever to the continued demands and protests of Guatemala. In 1908, by virtue of a new treaty, which was signed in 1895, the Honduran commissioners would not recognize the agreement of their predecessors and alleged that it had not been approved by both countries. For this reason Guatemala today must maintain as her boundary the one which formerly had belonged to her, and which previous to the year 1847 had been usurped by Honduras, with the villages of Sesecape (today Santa Fé) Santa Anita, the haciendas of San Cayetano and Machuca, with other settlements of small importance. These villages are located on the right bank of the Lempa River, and this river was the boundary which was recognized in remote times as the dividing line between the two countries. In fact in 1812 the members of the Sala Capitular of Comayagua, petitioned the King, among other things,

the reestablishment of the aggregation of the Partido of San Miguel, subject to the Intendancy of San Salvador, extending the limits of the Province of Honduras to the banks of the Lempa River from its source in the Parish of [Page 775] Ocotepeque, contiguous to the Archbishopric and Province of Guatemala on the east and following the regular course of this river to the South Sea, where it discharges, thus serving as a dividing line between the District of San Miguel and the Province of San Salvador. This boundary created by nature regulates the territory of the Province of Honduras.

José Maria Cacho, of whom mention is made hereinbefore, also states as follows in his book on the Department of Gracias published in 1857:

The Lempa River, which divides the States of Honduras and El Salvador, in this part, and whose fertile banks furnish the livelihood of many people in indigo plant and live stock, has its source between Esquipulas and Jute.

This river forms the boundary of the District of Ocotepeque, according to the description given by the same writer in the book mentioned. It is therefore not to be doubted that the Lempa River constituted the boundary between Guatemala and Honduras, before the latter began her encroachments into Guatemala.

In résumé the boundaries of both Republics are the following: the Lempa River, from the valley of Gualcho, at the angle of the Republic of Salvador, upstream to the ravine de la Brea; the ravine and thence a straight line to Cerro Obscuro. On these two last lines both parties are agreed; the mountain range called successively Merendén, Grita or Gallinero and Sierra del Espíritu Santo, to the peak San Ildefonso, and lastly a straight line to the Cuyamel River’s mouth on the Carribhean Sea.

Different geographies of Guatemala and of Central America and many maps of Guatemala and Honduras show these lines with slight variations; although, as stated above, the line from the Cuchilla de las Dantas or of Cerro Brujo (a little to the west of the former) as far as la Brea is conceded, some place Copan on the Honduran side and the others on the Guatemalan side, and finally, at times, terminate the line of the mountains in the Cuyamel River, and at others at the source of the Tinto River, the frontier following this river and the Motagua River to the sea. The following is a list of the publications and maps referred to:

  • Geography of Guatemala, by Francisco Gavarrete, 1868.
  • Geography of Central America, by Roderico Toledo, 1874.
  • Geography of Central America, by F. L. 1892.
  • Map of Central America, by John Baily, 1850.
  • Map of Guatemala, by Maximiliano von Sonnestern, 1859.
  • Map of Central America, by H. Kiefert, 1858.
  • Map of Guatemala, by Juan Gavarrete.
  • Map of Guatemala, by Herman An, 1875.
  • Map of Guatemala, by Teodoro Paschke, 1889.
  • Map of Honduras and Salvador, by E. G. Squier, 1859.
  • Map of Guatemala annexed to Geography of Gavarrete, 1868.
  • Map of Central America, annexed to “The Land of the Quetzal” by William F. Brigham, 1887.
  • Map of Guatemala, by E. Bourgeois, 1874.
  • Map of Honduras, by E. P. Mayes, 1904. This map adds, probably for the first time, another line on the Motagua River as the frontier claimed by Honduras, placing as the disputed zone that which lies between this and the mountain range.
  • Map of Honduras, by Francisco Altschul, 1889; as in the preceding map showing the disputed zone, traced by hand; not engraved.
  • Map of Guatemala, by C. Sapper, 1894.
  • Map of Honduras, and Salvador, Bureau of the American Republics, 1892.
  • Map of Honduras and Salvador, by F. Bianconi, 1891.
  • Map of Chiquimula (Department of Guatemala) del Atlas de M. Rivera Maestre, 1832.
  • Map of Honduras, by A. T. Byrn, 1886. This map was published by C. W. & C. B. Colton & Co., of New York, 1886; it bears the coat of arms of the Republic, and the name of the author A. T. Byrn, C. E., M. E., and the added title of Civil Engineer of the Government of Honduras. In a note on the map itself appears the following: “Sold by E. C. Fialles & Co., Civil and Mechanical Engineers and Mining Experts of the Republic, by special appointment of the Government, Tegucigalpa.” On this map the ridge of the Merendén, Grita or Gallinero and Espíritu Santo appear in their proper places, which is well known in that section; the only difference is that they are made to pass to the west of Copán, when in reality they pass to the east. The territorial boundary appears on this as extended from the ridge to the mouth of the Cuyamel River, which, however, occupies its proper position. It is to be borne in mind that this is an official map of Honduras, because not only was it made by a civil engineer of that Government, but it carries also the express authority of that Government for its sale. It is therefore a clear proof of the boundaries which Honduras acknowledges. Guatemala does not agree to the boundary accorded to Copán, or rather to the place where this village is situated, which is on the Guatemalan side to the west of the mountain ridge and not to the east, on the Honduran side.

I do not believe it would be possible to find in the archives of these two Republics, nor even in Spain, any other documents but those of a scientific nature, such as maps and inspections of special commissioners, which would give any clear data of the old boundaries of Guatemala and Honduras, due to lack of information possessed by the Governments of the two countries of the waste regions which separated the two provinces. If by chance reference is made to boundaries or to any jurisdiction it is generally so vague or so incorrect that in place of giving light it makes the subject yet more confused. It is not unusual, for example, to find a reference to a jurisdiction in old documents, such as: “Izabal, of the jurisdiction of Honduras,” or “Tegucigalpa, of the jurisdiction of Guatemala.” Do not such statements show the profound ignorance which existed respecting these countries? One boundary is given in a Royal Cédula of the 16th century, which is stated to be a direct line from the mouth of the Ulua River to the Bay of Fonseca. Is not this absurd and a lack of practical understanding? The geographic maps of the period before Honduras awakened to the ambitious desire to extend her frontiers are the only ones which can give us an idea of the true boundaries between the two countries; it should be borne in mind that work of this kind is the result of special study by the authors before giving a graphic form to the boundaries; and although they may contain errors caused by wrong interpretations or through lack of data, a dispassionate and good judgment in its acceptance would assist in clearing up the truth. Worthy of consideration in this connection, among the maps now in existence, are those of Guatemala made by [Page 777] Juan Gavarrete, and those of Honduras, drawn by A. T. Byrn, in 1886; the former having been traced by an illustrious and honorable scientist who worked all his life in the national archives, compiling indexes and catalogues of the records and whose upright character would not permit him to yield to a sentiment of partiality; the latter, because his work was done by order of the Government of Honduras, which gave its tacit approbation to it as the official map, by recommending its sale. Between the two there exists only one variance, and that is the reference to the Copán region which appears as belonging to Guatemala on the first map and to Honduras on the second; a difference which has existed heretofore and which is now the subject of controversy. There is no dispute about the rest of the frontier toward the north. Another important map, that of the vicarages, a manuscript of about the middle of the past century, gives the same boundary. This map is of an authenticity which gives no room for the slightest doubt and which defines the frontier of both countries, leaving no margin for any discussion whatever; although Guatemala and Honduras, in the treaty of 1845, in force at all times, agreed that the boundaries should be those fixed by the Church dioceses.

We will now take up the claims which Honduras makes up to the present date. This qualification is made because her claims change from day to day.

Since the drawing up of the first boundary treaty in 1845, between the two countries, the Guatemalan commissioners, adhering to the provisions of the treaty, have tried to establish the boundaries of the ecclesiastic jurisdictions of both dioceses; but the Honduran commissioners endeavored to give authority as the boundary to the lines traced by Honduran surveyors by means of land measurements arbitrarily made, without the knowledge of Guatemala, and upon lands acknowledged by the latter, as well as others belonging to her of much greater priority. It was not possible to arrive at an agreement, except as to the line above referred to from the Cuchilla de las Dantas to the Mojanal and to the passage of the Brea road.

It is pertinent to make mention here of the following fact: The Guatemalan commissions were given certain instructions by two men in Guatemala who were competent judges of such matters, being Miguel Larraynaga and Alejandro Marure. It was stated in these instructions that what was desired to be cleared up was the boundary on the southern part of the frontier, that on the north being clear and undisputed; although according to the historian Juarros that boundary was made by the Motagua River. Nevertheless the authors of these instructions added that the map of Rivera Maestre (that of Chiquimula, before mentioned) should be consulted; and as the difference between the map and the references made by Juarros is so enormous, Rivera Maestre giving the mountain ridge as the boundary and Juarros the Motagua River, it is inferred that the individuals giving the instructions must have been in doubt as to both statements. From the fact that the Motagua River had been mentioned as the boundary by an entirely unauthorized historian Honduras took the position of maintaining this claim, and thus originated her claim to the right side of the river, which Guatemala can never agree to.

It appears that Honduras also claims that her territory extends to the west of the mouth of the Motagua from the circumstance [Page 778] that the settlement of San Gil de Buenavista by Gil Gonzáles Dávila was located on that bank of the river; and it has even been attempted to maintain that that settlement was situated where today is found the port of Izabel, which is completely absurd. A full account has already been made regarding the colony of San Gil and that the Province of Honduras never extended beyond Omoa.

In the work of the boundary commissioners in 1908, 1909 and 1910, on the frontier, by virtue of the treaty of 1895, it was impossible for the Honduran commissioners to understand the duty which rested upon them to establish as a working basis the ecclesiastic jurisdiction, not only because this treaty so indicated, but because it had been so expressly provided in the previous treaty, which remained in force. They, nevertheless, continually endeavored to establish the boundary lines by means of land measurements, not only upon those which were adjudged before the independence, but those of more recent dates, and even those shown subsequent to the treaty.

A similar tendency was shown by the Hondurans when about to prosecute their inspection by virtue of the last treaty, that of 1914; but this work was never carried out.

In order to become convinced of the uncertainty of the position of Honduras in maintaining her successive claims, and her boundaries, it is sufficient to glance at the maps published by Honduras; in the map made by A. T. Byrn, 1886, hereinbefore mentioned, the mountain range was admitted to be the boundary, although embracing Copán; in that of E. P. Mayes, 1904, to which also reference has been made, the Motagua River is given as the boundary, as well as in another published by Colton, Ohman & Co. of New York in 1900. In another map drawn by the engineer E. C. Fialles, published in 1909 by August R. Ohman & Co. of New York, the boundary is given as reaching to Lake Izabel, embracing a great number of towns and villages of Guatemala, never before disputed, including Puerto Barrios, and the ports of Estrada Cabrera and Izabel; and finally, in another map of Central America, published by the house of D. Appleton & Co., in 1914, from data furnished by Honduras, according to the statement of the publishers, the boundary of Honduras and Guatemala appears as including all the lake of Izabel.

It will be clearly seen, from the occurrences of 1847, 1908 to 1910 and 1916, between the commissioners of both countries, that nothing can be gained by further study of the boundary question, as each attempt has further complicated the result. It is believed that the best way is to enter into a full and definite boundary treaty, in which the boundaries shall appear in a manner equitable to both countries, traced by a few straight lines, defining the lands legally acquired by both countries; seeking always the harmony which should exist between two republics, truly sister republics, each one yielding her claim, just or unjust, in the cause of peace and tranquility for both republics.

  • M. echeverria y vidaurre
  • Manuel Ma. Giron
  • Claudio Urrutia

Washington, September 18, 1917.