The Chamizal Residents and the Chamizal Convention of 1963
In the early 1960s the Chamizal dispute, which involved both the Chamizal tract and Cordova Island, had reached nearly 100 years with no resolution. The Chamizal tract was originally a tract of land that belonged to Mexico and was owned by Pedro Garcia, a Mexican farmer. Garcia’s property bordered the Rio Grande, the international border between Mexico and the United States. But a huge flood in 1864 altered the course of the Rio Grande and thus altered Pedro Garcia’s Chamizal tract—it went from being exclusively on the Mexican side to being exclusively on the U.S. side of the river. So did the U.S. own the Chamizal tract or did Mexico? This question was a chronic thorn in the relationship between the two countries for a century.
Meanwhile, Cordova Island was essentially a Mexican enclave inside the U.S.—it was a Mexican piece of land surrounded on three sides by the United States. Cordova Island was covered in desert shrubs and did not have a definitive international border. As a result, the island was a “no man’s land”; drug traffic, illegal immigration, booze, and blood were the signatures of the island. After many years, however, the Chamizal Convention (treaty) of 1963 finally ended the Chamizal tract conflict and significantly curbed the Cordova Island conflicts.
The Chamizal Convention of 1963 can best be explained by using the analogy of a sour lemon versus a glass of sweet lemonade. Indeed, the Chamizal Convention had some sweet-tasting lemonade: it gave the Chamizal tract back to Mexico, it cemented and straightened the Rio Grande through El Paso-Ciudad Juarez so that the river would never change course again, and it readjusted the international boundary at Cordova Island. In doing all of this, the convention significantly improved the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. However, the convention also forced approximately 5,600 U.S. residents to relocate off the Chamizal tract. Moreover, the convention created a title dispute between the Mexican government and the Garcia family. This essay will focus on the lemon side, or sour side, of the Chamizal Convention of 1963.