Mexico–Guatemala conflict

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Mexico-Guatemala Conflict
Part of Guatemala–Mexico relations
Military history of Mexico and Guatemala
Guatemala Mustang Attack(1) 1958.jpg
Mexican fishing vessel San Diego takes a direct hit from Guatemalan fire.
Date 30 December 1958 – 15 September 1959
(8 months, 2 days)
Location Mexican and Guatemalan waters off the Pacific coast of Mexico, Guatemala-Mexico border
Result Relations between the two nations are frozen for several months
Mexico Mexico Guatemala Guatemala
Commanders and leaders
Mexico Adolfo López Mateos
Logo de Fuerza Aerea Mexicana.svg Alfonso Cruz Rivera
Guatemala Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes
Roundel of the Guatemalan Air Force.svg Luis de Leon Urrutia [1]
MexicoNone Guatemala 2 P-51 Mustang fighter planes
Casualties and losses
Mexico 3 civilian fishermen dead, 14 wounded Guatemala None

The Mexico–Guatemala conflict was an armed conflict between the Latin American countries of Mexico and Guatemala, in which civilian fishing boats were fired upon by the Guatemalan Air Force. Hostilities were set in motion by the installation of Miguel Ydígoras as President of Guatemala on March 2, 1958.[2]


Since November 1956 the Guatemalan and Mexican governments had quarreled over the crossing of the Guatemalan border by Mexican citizens.[3] On November 8, 1957, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Adolfo Orantes,[4] sent a diplomatic letter to the Mexican government which detailed the complaints of the Guatemalan government.[3] Orantes said that Mexican shrimping boats were frequently crossing the nautical border into Guatemala to fish. He also reported that trees were being cut down by Mexican workers in the northernmost Guatemalan province of Petén. As protests in Guatemala City spoke out against the policies of the government,[5] newly elected President Ydígoras sought to set up faux nationalist causes in order to quell the spread of more civil unrest.[citation needed]

The President's administration capitalized on the complaints filed by the Foreign Minister several months prior. Ydígoras voiced concerns regarding illegal Mexican forays into Guatemala to the Mexican government; such concerns were met with a diplomatic note from the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, which stated that it could simply do nothing to identify the crews of fishing vessels that crossed the border, despite the strong presence of the Mexican Navy in the region.[3]

The conflict[edit]


The commander of the Guatemalan Air Force, Luis de Leon Urrutia, was ordered to develop a plan to locate and destroy foreign ships in Guatemalan territory. Less than 24 hours proceeding the order, a team formed by Urrutia had come up with Operation Drake, which, on December 30, was both approved and called to action by Ydígoras.[3]

Commencement of violence[edit]

On the afternoon of December 30, 1958, a group of Guatemalan AT-6 Texan aircraft surveyed the scene of the reported fishing to ensure the Mexican vessels were still there. The following morning, a flight of P-51 Mustangs took off from the Guatemalan mainland and observed a group of eight Mexican fishing boats. Five of the eight were a mere 1.5–2 miles (2.4–3.2 km) off the coast of the Guatemalan municipality of Champerico. The fishermen responded to the arrival of the fighter-bombers with jeers and obscene gestures.[citation needed]

When one boat, the Elizabeth, made a move for the Mexican border, the planes strafed the ships with their machine guns. By the time the shooting had ceased, three fishermen were left dead and fourteen were rendered stranded and wounded in Guatemalan territory.[3]


Rescue and captivity of sailors[edit]

After the sortie, one Mustang touched down at a landing strip near Champerico and sent[clarification needed] some of the injured fishermen to a military hospital within Guatemala. The remaining fishermen, who had tried to escape the strafing planes by leaping and swimming away from the scene, were picked up by two Guatemalan tugboats within six hours of the incident. Eventually, all fishermen were transported to a military base in Mazatenango and interrogated by Guatemalan military officials.[3] In January 1959, the Mexican Ambassador to Guatemala demanded the release of the fishermen. On January 22, 1959, a Guatemalan court released the fishermen, imposing a fine of 55 quetzals on them.[3] The following day, January 23, Mexican president Adolfo López Mateos terminated diplomatic relations with the Republic of Guatemala.[1]

Mexican response[edit]

When news of the attack reached Mexico, Mexican Air Force Major General Alfonso Cruz Rivera commandeered 60 aircraft for Operation Seagull, a retaliatory mission against Guatemala that began with a reconnaissance flight over Guatemala City. Two hours following the aforementioned flight, several Mexican T-6 Texans and T-28 Trojans, armed with machine guns and napalm bombs, entered Guatemalan airspace intending to strike La Aurora International Airport. Just as the aircraft approached their target, urgent orders were received to abort the mission. The newly elected Mexican president, not wanting to endure any political repercussions from further escalating the situation, opted to mediate the issue diplomatically.[1]

Border tensions[edit]

Within days of the attack, both Mexican and Guatemalan troops were mobilized to the 541-mile (871 km) long Guatemala-Mexico border. Mexican forces tore down a bridge which connected the two countries upon the severing of connections with the Guatemalan government.[6]


In the days prior to and proceeding the release of the Mexican fishermen, Ydígoras frequently made pleas to the media and the United Nations, insisting that Mexico had been planning an invasion of Guatemala, and that the fishermen were "pirates".[3] These claims, perceived as frivolous by Mexican officials, only served to prolong diplomatic insecurity between the two nations.[citation needed]

Ydígoras, growing increasingly paranoid about the communist takeover in Cuba, focused much of his attention on building up home defense in case of a Cuban invasion, as well as becoming more friendly with the United States. This perceived new threat led to the withdrawal of most Guatemalan forces from the border region within weeks of their arrival.[1]

In his address to the Congress of the Union on September 1, 1959, Mexican President López retold the episode and expressed his desire to mend the broken link between Guatemala and Mexico.[1] On September 15, 1959, during a speech regarding the 149th anniversary of the commencement of the Mexican War of Independence, Adolfo López Mateos announced that, through mediation on both sides, Guatemala and Mexico were reestablishing relations.[3] Soon afterwards, Guatemala compensated the families of the injured and dead fishermen, and formally apologized for the incident.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Overall, Mario. "OPERACION DRAKE". HobbyMex. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "educational ~ civil war". San Lucas Mission. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Previous context to the attack". Mytetmyology. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  4. ^ "Foreign Ministers E-K". Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "GUATEMALA: Unsettled Election". Time Magazine. 3 February 1958. 
  6. ^ "Conflict Mexico-Guatemala". Opinemos de Historia. January 8, 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Journal of Central America. September 17, 1959.  Missing or empty |title= (help);