Mexico's Southern Border: a Virtual Line

The border that divides Mexico from Guatemala is merely a virtual line, although there are demarcations such as stone markers, mountains, fences, rivers, and streams. It marks a separation between two nations that share the same language, customs, and physical traits, but also misery and social isolation.

From the time the state of Chiapas declared its independence from Central America and later was annexed to the Mexican federation on Sept. 14, 1825, the border has never been completely defined. Many years later, some people living in isolated enclaves in the mountainous areas on either side of the border, where governmental institutions including the civil registry do not exist, still did not know what citizenship they had.

Family ties link one community to another along the southern border. In the wake of the violence that rocked Guatemala from 1966 to 1996, thousands of refugees arrived in Mexican territory.

In some communities in the Marqués de Comillas area, local people still recall when they used to hear exchanges of gunfire between [Guatemalan] guerrillas and the Guatemalan army. These confrontations, on more than one occasion, took place in Mexican territory. The military forces would flee into Mexico to get supplies and regroup, and in the 1980s the kaibiles, a Guatemalan military elite force, even had camps here.

Four Mexican states are on the southern border—Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, and Quintana Roo—and more than 20 municipalities in all, with more than 1.5 million inhabitants. Indigenous communities predominate in this area.

By tradition, thousands of Guatemalans at first, and now Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans, emigrate to work on the farms and ranches [of Mexico] to harvest coffee or bananas. These stays are temporary.

Mexico, particularly the southern part of the country, shares a history with the Central American peoples, and despite their specific differences, forms a cultural continuum with the rest of Latin America.