In 1958 the Guatemalan army machine-gunned Mexican fishing boats that had crossed the border. As a consequence, Mexico and Guatemala were on the verge of going to war.
It was the year 1956 when the government of Guatemala – headed by President Miguel Ydígoras – demanded from the Mexican government the entry of pirate vessels into its territory since 1954. According to the complaints, Mexicans who entered the area from the Petén practiced illegal logging and fishing. Given this, the Department of Foreign Relations of Mexico stated that it could not do anything about it, since the identity of these vessels was unknown, since they did not have registration or national flag.
The situation generated tensions, as the Guatemalan government warned that it would use force to defend its natural resources. On November 8, 1957, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala again sent a letter to Mexico requesting that it face the situation to avoid damaging diplomatic relations. In the global context, several countries claimed a maritime territory of 12 miles, instead of the 3-mile limit that had been recognized since the 18th century. Because of this, tensions were directed at a problem of national sovereignty.
Warnings from the Guatemalan President
By November 1958, Mexico issued a warning, which was ignored by the vessels. As a consequence, on December 28, a C-47 military aircraft of the Guatemalan Military Air Force (FAMG) carried out a reconnaissance flight. A day later, the Guatemalan government again urged the Mexican government to take action on the matter. Due to the little interest of President Adolfo Ruíz Cortines, on December 30 his Guatemalan namesake published a letter in the newspapers, warning that “bomb and machine-gun until every pirate ship is sunk day and night, until they finish off those bandits, pirates and filibusters. . “
That same day, President Ydígoras ordered Colonel Luis Urrutia de León, commander-in-chief of the FAMG, to destroy the Mexican ships that were 12 miles inland from the Guatemalan sea. The plan – known as “Operation Drake” – was operational on December 31, when at 6:45 AM two military planes took off. Among the crew, there were reporters from the newspaper El Imparcial, who would leave a testimony of the offensive.
Guatemala Bombs Mexican ships
About an hour later, the planes located eight shrimp boats off the coast of Champerico, Guatemala. A C-47 plane served as the command center, while a Cessna 180 aircraft flew over the vessels to ensure that they did not have license plates. Subsequently, a Cessna 182 came and called the boats to head towards Champerico under the warning of being machine-gunned.
According to journalists, the crew of the Mexican fishing boats mocked and insulted the Guatemalan military. As a result, the three planes withdrew and at 8:40 AM two Mustang P-51 fighter jets arrived.
The first ship attacked was the Elizabeth, which received 14 bullet wounds. Because he quickly marched towards Champerico and external his surrender with a white blanket, there were no casualties. However, the other vessels tried to flee to Mexico from Ocós, so the two Mustang planes attacked them with shrapnel. As a result, the captain of the ship Águila 4 died and there were several wounded. The first two Mustangs were subsequently ordered to return to base.
A short time later another Mustang appeared near the coast of Champerico and attacked two other ships that were trying to flee: San Diego and Puerto de Salina Cruz. In the first boat, there was one dead and several wounded. In all, Operation Drake left three dead and fourteen wounded.
To carry out the arrest and rescue of the fishermen, the Cessna-180 reported what happened. Meanwhile, the C-47 plane that served as the command center crashed into a buzzard, disabling its use to come to the rescue. Later a similar plane came to rescue the fishermen, some of whom had jumped into the sea with life jackets and remained in the water for about six hours.
Tensions between governments
The context of tension occurred in the process of change of government, so Mexico did not respond to the aggression. The incoming government of Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos opted for a diplomatic exit since Mexico was then the host country for the Organization of American States (OAS), so starting a war would have a high political cost.
On January 1, 1959, the Mexican ambassador to Guatemala protested the offensive, requesting compensation and apologies to the affections. However, the Guatemalan government clarified that it was a police operation and not a military offensive. To confront the actions of Guatemala, Mexico ordered the escort of the fishing boats with gunboats from the Mexican Navy. Likewise, student and worker groups were organized in rallies to support President López Mateos.
On the other hand, Mexico denounced the use of weapons against unarmed fishing vessels. However, Guatemala reproached that Mexico used the same tactics against US pirates and that it was only a matter of public security. Finally, the Guatemalan justice found the fishermen guilty and released them with a bail of 55 quetzals. However, on January 23, President Adolfo López Mateos would put an end to commercial and diplomatic relations with Guatemala, blaming Ydígoras for not cooperating through the International Court of Justice.
The resolution of the Mexico-Guatemala conflict
Guatemala once again responded by blaming Mexico for not intervening in the issue of pirate vessels and arms trafficking. As a result, both nations deployed their armies on the border. Meanwhile, the media of both countries encouraged nationalist fire and marches were held in the capitals of Mexico and Guatemala. On March 26, Guatemala broke relations with Mexico, after Central American protesters destroyed the bridge that linked Ciudad Hidalgo and Ayutla. In response, armed Mexicans crossed the border and stormed the town of Santa Ana. At the height of the tension, the Guatemalan president accused Mexico and Belize of planning a coup; López Mateos denied the charges.
The diplomatic crisis reached its peak when Ydígoras formed a coalition with El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua to stoke resentment against Mexico. Costa Rica remained neutral and offered itself as a diplomatic mediator.
While Mexico had the support of the United States, Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union.
Finally, thanks to the mediation of Venezuela and Chile, Mexico and Guatemala resumed relations on September 15, 1959. During a speech, President Adolfo López Mateos thanked the Mexican people for their support and noted the importance of Latin American solidarity and friendship with Guatemala. In addition, both nations apologized for both the use of force and impunity. The Guatemalan government also agreed to compensate the bereaved and injured, and promised to combat piracy only preventively.