The beginning of the end of the Chamizal dispute came in 1962 when President López Mateos of Mexico asked President Kennedy to meet with him in Mexico City. JFK agreed and flew down to Mexico’s sprawling capital. The presidents discussed many things but specifically they discussed Cold War politics. Indeed, the 1960s was the heart of the Cold War era, a time when the Soviet Union and the United States were fighting each other in every way except direct warfare. This was a time when the two superpowers were challenging each other economically, politically, militarily, and ideologically. Regarding military, politics, and economy, it was like the U.S. and the Soviet Union were playing a game of chess in which they kept moving their pieces across the world game board but never put their king in checkmate. Ideologically, to be blunt, it was U.S. “democracy” versus Soviet Union “communism.”
Mexico is the United States’ large southern neighbor. For Mexico to turn communist would be a direct threat to U.S. national security. JFK went down to visit the Mexican president to improve relations between the two countries and ultimately make sure a Mexican-Soviet alliance did not form. President López Mateos told Kennedy that if the U.S. President really wanted to make things better between the U.S. and Mexico, then the two countries needed to figure out a solution to the old Chamizal dispute. The presidents made an agreement: the Chamizal dispute must be peacefully settled, now.
Immediately, IBWC Commissioners David Herrera Jordan of Mexico and Joseph Friedkin of the U.S. began working “very hard to come up with an agreement [on the Chamizal dispute] that both sides would agree on” (Nestor Valencia, Interview with Michelle Gomilla, Chamizal Oral History Project, UTEP, March 8 and April 20, 1994). In fact, Jordan, Friedkin and the IBWC officials working under them were the ones that created, wrote, and finalized the Chamizal Convention.
We’ve briefly discussed four of the six key players in the Chamizal Convention, leaving us with Thomas Mann and President Johnson. When JFK was asked to meet the Mexican President in Mexico City, he really didn’t know much about the Chamizal dispute and its history and drama. Kennedy called on U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Thomas Mann to enlighten him on the subject. Mann was extremely educated on the Chamizal dispute as he had held various positions in the U.S. Department of State Latin America Sector since 1943. Moreover, Mann had taken several trips to El Paso in the 1950s with the primary goal of resolving the Chamizal dispute.
What about LBJ? Tragically, while driving through downtown Dallas in his motorcade in 1963, JFK was assassinated. JFK’s Vice President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, became President of the United States of America. Johnson swore that he would continue the policies of Kennedy. And so, it was during JFK’s tenure that the resolution of the Chamizal dispute started, but it was LBJ and the people that worked with him on both sides of the border that finished the resolution.
In July of 1963 U.S. Ambassador Thomas Mann and Mexican Foreign Minister Manuel Tello signed the Chamizal Convention in Mexico City. The convention then went to Washington D.C. where in January of 1964 LBJ signed it. In April, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed Public Law 88-300, the “Chamizal Convention Act”.
On September 25, 1964 (Chamizal Day) Presidents Lyndon Baines Johnson and Adolfo López Mateos met in the middle of El Paso-Ciudad Juarez to officially approve the Chamizal Convention of 1963. Large portions of the cities shut down to celebrate the end of the border dispute and to catch a glimpse of the two world leaders. Schools were let out and government offices and businesses were closed. Two hundred and fifty thousand people turned out to see, meet, and greet the presidents, the largest crowd in the history of El Paso-Ciudad Juarez. Perhaps one of the finest moments in the history of Mexico-United States relations was when the two presidents met in the middle of the international bridge. They walked up to each other and shook hands—a common symbol of peace, friendship, and goodwill. At this moment, the Chamizal Convention of 1963 became a reality, and the Chamizal dispute was resolved after 100 years of conflict.