El Norte dispute

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El Norte dispute
Disputed region
Native name: Disputa territorial del Norte
Other names: Los Pacíficos and the Yucatán/Los Pacíficos y Yucatán (Sierra)
Territorios del Norte y Yucatán (Mexico)
El Norte.png
El Norte: Baja California Peninsula and Sonora (left) and the Yucatán Peninsula (right)
Geography
Sierra (green), Mexico (orange), and El Norte territories (yellow)
Sierra (green), Mexico (orange), and El Norte territories (yellow)
Location Baja California peninsula, Sonora, and the Yucatán peninsula
Total islands 55
Major islands Guadalupe Island, Cedros Island, Revillagigedo Islands, Archangel Island, Tiburón Island
Area 242,390 km 2 (93,587 sq. mi.)
Highest point
Administered by
Flag of Sierra.svg Sierra
Territories Flag of Pacifico Norte.svg Pacífico Norte
Flag of Pacifico Sur.svg Pacífico Sur
Crown dependencies Flag of Cancún.svg Cancún
Flag of the Republic of Yucatan.svg Yucatán
Largest city Tijuana (1,672,383)
Claimed by
Flag of Sierra.svg Sierra
Citations Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Baja California Peninsula and Sonora) and Treaty of Veracruz (Yucatán Peninsula)
Flag of Mexico.svg Mexico
States Flag of Baja California.svg Baja California
Flag of Baja California Sur.svg Baja California Sur
Flag of Campeche.svg Campeche
Flag of Quintana Roo.svg Quintana Roo
Flag of Sonora.svg Sonora
Flag of Yucatan.svg Yucatán
Flag of France.svg France
Minor territory Clipperton Island (only claim)
Demographics
Population 8,135,141 (as of 2010)
Density 33.56/km2 (86.92/sq. mi.)/km²

El Norte dispute refers to the territorial disputes over the Baja California Peninsula, Sonora, and associated islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Yucatán Peninsula and its associated islands in the Caribbean Sea between the Kingdom of Sierra and the Mexican Social Republic. In Sierra, the disputed regions include the territories of Pacífico Norte and Pacífico Sur (known as Los Pacíficos), and the crown dependencies of Cancún and Yucatán (known as the Maya Rivera). In Mexico, they are known as the Mexican states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Yucatán. The Baja California Peninsula and Sonora have been controlled by Sierra since 1848, while the Yucatán Peninsula has been controlled by Sierra since 1956. The dispute also includes the trilateral dispute over Clipperton Island between Sierra, Mexico, and France in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The Mexican government has challenged Sierra's sovereignty over the territories in lapses throughout the two centuries, and has actively promoted El Norte as integral parts of Mexico since 2003. The combined populations of the territories in question number over 8 million, and include over 242,000 square kilometers of land (93,500 square miles), and 55 individual islands scattered throughout the Eastern Pacific, Sea of Cortés, Gulf of Mexico, and Yucatán Channel.

Sierra argues that its control and administration over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora is justified by citing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which Mexico signed in recognition of independence for Sierra's predecessor state, the California Republic, and included territorial concessions over Californian-occupied territories. Although neither the Baja California Peninsula nor Sonora were administered together as part of Alta California at the time of the Mexican-American War, they were invaded by Californian militiamen with the aid of Brazoria and the United States. The occupied territories were not named in the treaty, although the Californian government held that the treaty's territorial concessions extended onto such areas, which the Mexican government initially objected, but acquiesced in 1855 following the normalization of relations under a new administration. In 1858, the Kingdom of Sierra succeeded the California Republic and explicitly named the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora as part of the nation's integral territory. Meanwhile, Sierra's claims over the Yucatán Peninsula are supported by the Treaty of Veracruz, which was signed between Sierra and Mexico in 1956, shortly after the 1956 Mexican coup d'état when newly-installed and pro-American Mexican President Francisco Alarcón transferred the territory to the Sierran Crown as a gesture of goodwill. During the coup and related conflict, Sierran forces occupied the Yucatán Peninsula to protect Anglo-American businesses (mainly fruit companies), citizens, and interests there from socialist forces. The constitutionality of the administrative transfer was openly challenged in 1976 after Alcarón's regime ended by President Hector Párraga Villajos. The two distinct and separated regions became collectively known as "El Norte" in Mexico, a term which was later adopted by Sierra itself. In 1981, League of Nations Special Commission on Decolonization excluded El Norte from its list of non-self-governing territories, and in 1984, the International Court of Justice in Mexico v. Sierra affirmed Sierra's sovereignty over El Norte in its entirety. Despite this landmark ruling, Mexico has filed a number of litigation cases against Sierra over various issues related to the dispute. Several international organizations including the Conference of American States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization have officially supported Sierra's claims. It has threatened full military action against Mexico, insisting any attempt to violate Sierra's sovereignty over El Norte could justify a militarized response.

Mexico argues that Sierra's control over El Norte is illegal occupation and is a form of imperialism. It contests the legality and merits of Sierra's claims over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, maintaining that the territories were never conclusively mentioned in the treaty. In addition, it claims the territorial acquisitions were illegally occupied by the California Republic as leverage against the Mexican state, and were taken while diplomatic negotiations were underway between the belligerents without prior Mexican consultation. It argues Mexico only appeared to accept California's claims over the disputed territory in 1853 as it was unable to send sufficient military forces to defend its sovereign territory, and was under the threat of total invasion by the other Anglo-American powers if it attempted to challenge California, and later Sierra. Thus, it argues this violates Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, titled "Coercion of a State by the threat or use of force", a document both nations are signatories of. However, in the same document, in Article 4, titled "Non-retroactivity of the present Convention", it states that the Convention shall not be applied retroactively on treaties that existed prior to the Convention.

Within El Norte itself, residents have been divided on the issue. Administratively, El Norte is divided into four territories, of which Pacífico Norte and Pacífico Sur are organized, unincorporated territories of Sierra which operate under semi-autonomous, self-governing administrations, whilst Cancún and Yucatán are administered separately as crown dependencies subject to de jure control by Parliament and operating with de facto self-governments. Their status as crown dependencies, as opposed to standard territories, are a type of legal fiction implemented to avoid including Cancún and Yucatán as part of federal Sierra, while still subjecting them to the powers of the federal Parliament, and implications that the land was unilaterally taken from Mexico. Each of the four territories have held numerous referenda on their status, and in each instance until 2008, voters overwhelmingly preferred to remain Sierran, although varied on attaining provincial status, maintaining the status quo, or obtaining free association status. Since 2010, a significant independence movement and Mexican reunification movement has emerged in the Sonoran region of Pacífico Norte and the Yucatán.

El Norte dispute remains the most contentious issue complicating Mexico–Sierra relations. Military confrontations and other incidents occurring near El Norte's international borders and internal waters between the two states have made the dispute a major security issue in North America. Every major political party in Sierra and ruling governments have maintained support over Sierra's control over El Norte since 1858. In Mexico, there have been lapses in opinion. In the early 20th century, the Mexican government sporadically laid claim over Sonora, and the two states engaged in a number of border skirmishes until World War II. After the rise of General Francisco Alcáron as President of Mexico, Alcáron met with Prime Minister Henry Faulkner to sign the Treaty of Veracruz, whereby Mexico formally ceded the Yucatán Peninsula over to Sierra, and relinquish all active claims over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora. Under Alcáron's military junta, public opposition to the territory transfer and support for irredentist movements were suppressed, while Mexico sought closer integration and diplomatic relations with its Anglo-American neighbors, including Sierra. Following Alcáron's death and the subsequent collapse of his government, left-wing President Villajos revived Mexico's claims over El Norte and appealed to the international community to recognize Mexico's claims. Since then, both the Mexican left and right have strongly supported Mexican irredentism over El Norte. More moderate and centrist parties have offered alternative opinions, with some supporting Mexican El Norte but maintaining the status quo, and others outright supporting Sierra's claims, rather than Mexico's. Mexican nationalism often includes references and imagery that shows a united Mexico that includes El Norte, while others show Aztlán, which claims a greater Mexico that includes Sierra, Brazoria, and southern Rainier. In 2013, Sierra suspended its diplomatic mission with Mexico, recalled all of its diplomatic staff in Mexico, and declared all Mexican diplomats in Sierra persona non grata, and placed economic sanctions against Mexico, as well as froze assets owned by Mexican officials, due to events related to the dispute.

Background[edit]

Territories[edit]

Cancún Pacífico Norte
Flag of Cancún.svg
Flag of Pacifico Norte.svg
Capital: Cancún
Largest city: Cancún
Population (2010): 678,770
Capital: Mexicali
Largest city: Tijuana
Population (2010): 2,637,708
Pacífico Sur Yucatán
Flag of Pacifico Sur.svg
Flag of the Republic of Yucatan.svg
Capital: La Paz
Largest city: Cabo San Lucas
Population (2010): 694,747
Capital: Mérida
Largest city: Mérida
Population (2010): 4,123,916

El Norte consists of the Baja California Peninsula, the historical Mexican state of Sonora, and the Yucatán Peninsula, as well as 55 islands in both the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The northern half of the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora are administered as Pacífico Norte, while the southern half of the Baja California Peninsula is administered as Pacífico Sur. The Yucatán Peninsula is administered as the Crown Dependency of Yucatán, while the city of Cancún is administered separately as its own crown dependency. The two crown dependencies are grouped together as the Sierran Maya Rivera and represents the only parts of Sierra which meets the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The largest population centers in Los Pacíficos are the Tijuana–San Diego metropolitan area, which includes the city of Tijuana, Mexicali, Salsipuedes, and Ensenada. Other significant cities include La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, and Hermosillo. The largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula is Cancún, which includes the city proper and surrounding region.

Cityscape of Salsipuedes, Pacífico Norte, the third largest city in El Norte

Both Los Pacíficos and the Maya Rivera have advanced, regional, and diversified economies. In both areas, the single most important and largest industries are tourism, hospitality, agriculture, and manufacturing. The El Norte territories accounted for 15% of Sierra's $5.4 trillion GDP in 2017, and represents one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas. Los Pacíficos' demographics are diverse, with large immigrant populations from the Middle East (particularly Lebanon and Syria), East Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. The Baja California Peninsula is a popular tourist destination for Sierrans and international travelers due to its number of beach resort communities and natural excursions. It also has a significant community of Anglo-American snowbirds and retirees from further north.

At the international borders between Sierra and Mexico in both Los Pacíficos and the Maya Rivera, much of the boundary is marked by border walls and fences, which were mainly constructed by the Mexican government during the 1970s and 1980s. The border fence is maintained by the Mexican government and patrolled by the Mexican Border Patrol, whose primary goal is to keep Mexican citizens from leaving the country in order to enter Sierran El Norte. On the Sierran side of the border, some areas have an additional barrier built by the Sierran government, and is patrolled by the Sierran Border Patrol and Customs Authority. An informal demilitarized zone that has a width of about a mile on either side exists between the two states in order to prevent conflict escalation, and to allow authorities on either side to apprehend illegal crossers without impediment.

Since 2014, the Mexican government has banned travel to the Sierran mainland for its citizens, although it still allows citizens to travel to El Norte as it regards the areas as Mexican soil. It has not banned Sierran citizens from entering Mexico however. Likewise, although Sierra suspended relations with Mexico, it continues to accept non-diplomatic visas and passports from Mexico (issued at the Embassy of Brazoria, which acts as the protecting power for Sierran interests in Mexico) and it allows Sierran citizens to travel to Mexico, where Sierra continues to enjoy visa-waiver status. Mexican nationals who have permanent residency in Sierra may also apply for Sierran citizenship under a streamlined process when their domicile is in any of the four El Norte territories.

Mexican-American War[edit]

Painting depicting the Battle of San Pasqual

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from the Kingdom of Spain and the Spanish Empire following the conclusion of the Mexican War of Independence and the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba. Mexico gained control over present-day Mexico, including all of El Norte, and nearly all of the land that forms federal Sierra and Brazoria, as well as parts of southern Rainier. The territory where Sierra lied was administered as Alta California, while El Norte was divided into three territories: Baja California, Sonora y Sinaloa, and Yucatán. The Mexican government experienced a prolonged period of political and social instability, and as a result, Alta California exercised a significant degree of autonomy and independence from Mexican affairs and governance. Alta California's economy was built on ranching and grazing, and its populace largely consisted of Spaniard and mestizo ranchers who owned large parcels of land, and Anglo-American immigrants (including African Americans and Creole people) from Brazoria and the United States (future United Commonwealth), as well as the indigenous Amerindian peoples. In addition, Alta California included the Channel Islands, where a large colony of French settlers and their descendants lived.

By the 1840s, the number of Anglo-Americans living in Alta California and rate of their arrival outpaced the local Californios. Mexico allowed foreigners to settle in the territories provided they learned and used the Spanish language and convert to Roman Catholicism. These two requirements were largely ignored by many Anglo-American settlers, most of whom continued to speak English only and retain their Protestant faith. As more Anglo-Americans arrived, Mexican authorities attempted to rein in Anglo-American immigration by refusing to sell or grant land and property to those labeled as illegal immigrants. Dissatisfaction with the Mexican government stirred civil unrest and tensions between the Anglo-Americans and Californios intensified as divided communities competed over land and resources.

The signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga signaled the end of hostilities between Californian and Mexican forces in Alta California.

In 1846, war broke out between Brazoria, the United States, and Mexico over territorial disputes. Anglo-American troops were sent to engage with Mexican forces throughout its territories, including Alta California, where Anglo-American civilians led a rebellion in Sonoma three months following the United States' formal declaration of war on Mexico. The localized rebellion in Sonoma soon spread across the rest of Alta California, which pitted the Anglo-American settlers and sympathetic Californios against local Mexican authorities and Californio loyalists. The rebels were resolved to achieve independence from Mexico due to years of perceived grievances committed by the Mexican government against English-speaking settlers by rallying behind the Bear Flag, a crudely assembled flag that bore a bear, a star, and a text that read the "California Republic".

The Anglo-American forces and rebels in Alta California were able to successfully overwhelm and defeat the Mexican government. Conflict ended in Alta California in 1847, following the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga. In 1848, peace negotiations were underway as Anglo-American troops marched into Mexico City and forced the government to capitulate. During the peace negotiation process, Californian rebels moved their forces downward into the sparsely populated Baja California Peninsula and Sonora to obtain more land for their territory. Sonora and the rest of northern Mexico featured rugged terrain and dry conditions that were still largely under the control of independent indigenous tribes who resisted Mexican rule.

Cession of Mexico[edit]

"Mapa de los Estados Unidos de Méjico by John Distrunell, the 1847 map used during the negotiations

Fighting continued after the Treaty of Cahuenga in the other campaigns of the Mexican–American War. Anglo-American troops made advances into the Mexican mainland and captured a number of major cities, before marching to and occupying the capital of Mexico City in September 1847. Hostilities remained until the following year, when the last of the Mexican forces under the leadership of Antonio López de Santa Anna were defeated. On February 2, 1848, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with California and Brazoria, and their protecting power, the United States. Within the Treaty, Mexico agreed to recognize the independences of the California Republic and Brazoria, and relinquished all claims over Alta California, New Mexico, and Texas to the two independent states. All of the land legally ceded became known as the Mexican Cession.

Naval engagements and blockades continued along the coasts of the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora while the peace talks were underway. The end of hostilities in Alta California had allowed the victorious Californian and American troops to focus their efforts on the conquest of Baja California and Sonora. In 1846, U.S. Naval Commodore Robert F. Stanton desired to extend California's territorial control over the peninsula and the northwestern coast of Mexico. He sent Real Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont to the city of La Paz to capture and occupy it. American military domination over the area resulted in the capitulation of Mexican Colonel Francisco Palacios Miranda, who surrendered control over La Paz and the vicinity to the occupying American and Californian forces. In 1847, the combined forces of California and the United States stationed in the peninsula were reinforced by troops from San Francisco City, who assisted the beleaguered, undersupplied garrison in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas.

Although the local Bajacalifornios launched an armed resistance movement against the occupying forces, they were successfully suppressed upon the arrival of the reinforcements from San Francisco City. Baja Californian resistance fighters were finally defeated on March 31, 1848 in the Skirmish of Todos Santos, nearly two months after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had been signed. Although Article V of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had already defined the southern territorial limits of California based on the boundary between Alta California and Baja California, it included a provision such that active territorial claims pursued by the California Republic during the course of the Treaty that were not mentioned in the document were to become Californian territory. American and Mexican plenipotentiaries were generally unaware of the Californian advancements in the Baja California Peninsula, whilst the conquest of Sonora had also evaded explicit mention during the peace negotiations. Thus, while the Treaty officially marked the official, minimal territorial extent of California, it inadvertently extended California's territorial borders beyond its agreed upon boundaries to include Baja California and Sonora, as the areas met the treaty's conditions of active territorial claims.

The Mexican government realized this miscalculated error in the late spring of 1847, where they were met with Californian troops which informed them that the treaty had legally transferred territorial control over the peninsula to the Californians. Rather than renege the newly established peace with the Anglo-American victors, Mexico sought American reassurance that Baja California was to be returned to Mexico by citing Article III of the Treaty as the area was considered a part of the Mexican interior by Mexico and was militarily occupied territory beyond the accepted boundaries. Mexico raised similar concerns over continued Anglo-American presence in Sonora, who remained in the territory ostensibly to fight against Amerindian tribes there.

The United States ignored Mexico's request and supported California's claims by citing the loophole, asserting the peninsula and Sonora had been actively pursued by the California Republic. The Republic included wording within its first constitution that named the territories as part of California, much to the objection and derision of the Mexican government. California offered Mexico $5 million in "compensation" to be paid out in a 40-year period, with accrued interest, but the Mexican government refused although it elected not to militarily challenge California's claims as the government was still dealing with internal strife and post-war recovery efforts.

Intercession period[edit]

Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna agreed to recognize California's claim over El Norte

The intercession period refers to the time period of approximately a century between the end of the Mexican-American War and the transfer of the Yucatán Peninsula, and broadly encompassed the formative and developmental years of Sierra, including the War of Contingency, the Sierran Civil War, and the Sierran Cultural Revolution, as well as Mexico's which underwent a series of major events including the French intervention in Mexico and the Mexican Revolution. During this period, Mexico–Sierra relations fluctuated depending on either sides' respective administrations, and Mexican opinions towards El Norte varied.

In 1854, the Mexican government under the leadership of Antonio López de Santa Anna agreed to recognize California's claims over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora in exchange for $20 million ($540 million in 2017 dollars), a decision which was highly controversial amongst the Mexican public but was rationalized by Santa Anna as a prudent decision as the government was in desperate need for funds. Santa Anna had resisted making land concessions that extended south of the Sierra Madre Occidental, but needed money to rebuild the Mexican Army to defend against a future possible invasion from the Anglo-Americans. Although he did not desire losing additional land to the Anglo-Americans, he believed acquiescing to California's outstanding claims over the peninsula and Sonora would appease California and its ally from invading again. Santa Anna sought international assistance from the British government in negotiating the most amount of money for the least amount of land conceded with California, although Great Britain refused to get involved.

Santa Anna operated under the assumption that eventually, the California Republic would be annexed by the United States, or that civil war would break out in the United States, allowing the South to split with the North, and allow Santa Anna to retake the lost land, including parts of the Mexican Cession in the midst of the political strife. He initially proposed administering the land together with California rather than outright ceding it, but was later convinced that the situation would resolve itself should the Mexicans residing under Californian control stage a revolt, in which Santa Anna hoped Mexico would be prepared to assist.

Transfer of the Yucatán Peninsula[edit]

Post-transfer status and dispute[edit]

El Norte status referenda[edit]

Sierra's positions[edit]

Sierran authorities have insisted that all parts of El Norte, both Los Pacíficos and the Maya Rivera, are inherent territory of Sierra, established through historical developments, international law, Sierran administration over the lands, and approval by local residents. Sierra has insisted that the territorial changes between it and Mexico were "permanent" and are not up for "resolution or compromise" as Sierra's sovereignty over the territory is deemed non-negotiable and inviolable. It bases its arguments over legitimate claim to El Norte with the following points:

  1. Baja California Peninsula and Sonora were included as territory transferable to Sierra's predecessor, the California Republic, through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
  2. The area was obtained legitimately within the context of warfare, which were validated by the aforementioned treaty.
  3. The Mexican government under Antonio López de Santa Anna accepted Sierra's claims over the territory formally in 1853.
  4. Sierra is the legitimate successor to the California Republic, which inherited all territorial claims of the Republic, which included the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora.
  5. El Norte has organized governments, administered separately into territories, each with democratically-elected officials and public elections.
    1. El Norte has held a combined total of 23 referenda within the span of 50 years between 1978 and 2018, and not one resulted in challenging the status quo in favor of retrocession to Mexico.
    2. Constitutional law and legal precedent prevents Sierra from transferring the territories to Mexico without the consent of the people, along with Parliament and the Crown, consent which has not been sufficiently indicated or evident in any of the three entities.

Mexico's positions[edit]

Mexican authorities have denounced the continued occupation and presence within the disputed territories arguing that the Yucatan is rightful historic Mexican land and foreign intervention, wars and occupation have prevented the Mexican government from properly administrating the territories uninterrupted. Since the fall of the military junta in 1978, the Mexican government accuses the Treaty of Veracruz of being an unjust treaty arguing that Mexico only agreed to the treaty due to the 1956 coup which brought the right-wing authoritarian government into power that signed the treaty to maintain the support of Sierra and other Anglo-American nations. Mexico's arguments are the following;

  • Mexico has always controlled and maintained a presence within the El Norte territories before Sierra's presence.
  • Foreign intervention and wars have prevented Mexico from properly administrating the disputed lands.
  • The Treaty of Veracruz was invalid and unequal as it was signed by a pro-Sierran puppet government after the 1956 coup.
  • Sierra's continued control of the El Norte territories violates the sovereignty and self-determination of the Mexican people.
  • Sierra's occupation of the disputed lands is in direct violation of international law and is unjust.

International opinions[edit]

Supports Sierra[edit]

Supports Mexico[edit]

Neutral[edit]

Other stances[edit]

Events[edit]

Incidents in the Sea of Cortes[edit]

Border conflicts[edit]

Protests[edit]

Militarization[edit]

Diplomatic suspension[edit]

Other incidents[edit]

Timeline[edit]

See also[edit]