Remembering The Chamizal Convention 50 Years Later

Dec 20, 2013

When we think of memorials we often think of the sacrifice and loss of life that was made by many during a war, event, or movement.

However, in El Paso just north of the Rio Grande, next to a bridge that connects the United States with Mexico lies a memorial dedicated to peace.  The Chamizal National Memorial tells the story of a land dispute that led to a peaceful resolution between the U.S. and Mexico.

The memorial tells the story of The United States and Mexico agreeing to peacefully resolve a nearly 100 year long dispute regarding land rights. 

The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo established the Rio Grande as part of the boundary between the U.S. and Mexico. However, years later a massive flood complicated that agreement.

Nestor Valencia, a former chief planner for El Paso is one of few still alive who worked towards the Chamizal Treaty.

“The river flooded the area between El Paso and Juarez, and it changed the channel from 1852-1864, leaving about 470 acres of land North of the new overnight channel,” said Valencia.

That dispute would lead up to 1910 when the two countries agreed to appoint an arbitration committee made up to hear the dispute which would later be won by Mexico a year later.

The United States refused to accept that decision continuing the dispute between the neighboring countries according to Valencia.

“Many things happened between 1911 and 1961 when President John F. Kennedy and Adolfo Lopez Mateos meet in Mexico City,” said Valencia.

It was at that meeting that the two presidents agreed to end the dispute quickly.

After President Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson followed through with the agreement that the two presidents had made and in 1964 he and Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos unveiled the new boundary marker that separated the two countries. 

The Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso also displays the efforts of President Lyndon Johnson towards the agreement between the two countries. 

One of the final agreements between the two countries was the establishment of a monument on both sides of the border to honor the peaceful solution.

Ann Doherty-Stephan, with the National Park Service works at the Chamizal National Memorial shares what visitors can find there.

“Depending on the time of year, it varies. We do have three gallery spaces and exhibits. The art shows rotate throughout the year. We also have a museum, and it talks about the river, and the change of course of the river, which is really the heart and core of the story here at the Chamizal National Memorial,” says Doherty-Stephan.

It is at the memorial where you can also gain a sense of a shared history between the two countries. According to Nestor Valencia, the agreement helped both countries along with the two border cities of El Paso and Juarez.

“It was a dispute that was settled between two neighboring countries that came to an international court that really benefited both countries, improved relations between the two countries, and improved the boundary development between the two cities,” says Valencia.

Some improvements in El Paso were a new Bowie High and Vocational School, and the Franklin irrigation canal was relocated.

In Juarez, a massive park was built on the old river bed, a large sports arena was built, and railroads were relocated.

The agreement also called for new border highways and above grade multinational bridges for both countries.

To view an interview with Nestor Valencia on events leading up to The Chamizal Treaty visit the link below: