Guatemala–Mexico border and The Suchiate River

Guatemala–Mexico border and The Suchiate River

Border between Guatemala (left) and Mexico (right, Lagunas de Montebello National Park) delineated by cleared trees and a white border marker.

The Guatemala–Mexico border is the international border between Guatemala and Mexico. There is no continuous wall on the border, although there are sections of fence near populated areas and official border crossings.[1] It measures 871 km (541 mi) and runs between north and west Guatemala (the Guatemalan departments of San Marcos, Huehuetenango, El Quiché and El Petén) and the Mexican states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. The border includes stretches of the Usumacinta River, the Salinas River, and the Suchiate River.

The Usumacinta River as viewed from Chiapas, Mexico. The far bank is Guatemala

Photo of a landscape of Mexico-Guatemala border, at the right hand Mexico

Entrance to Mexico in the Ciudad Hidalgo border crossing

Geopolitically, this border represents much of the western and northern boundary of the region of Central America within North America. It is across this border that most of the commerce between Mexico and Guatemala and the rest of Central America takes place.



In 1881, problems arose for Guatemala when President Justo Rufino Barrios claimed lands Soconusco and Chiapas. The initial position of the Government of Mexico was not to accept discussion about their rights in that region. However, from 1882 began talks to resolve the problem between Matías Romero and Justo Rufino at The Winch at Hacienda de Barrios (Soconusco), where both had possessions. They decided to go to arbitration in the United States.


The preliminary agreement was signed in New York City on August 12 of 1882, and it stated that: “The Republic of Guatemala dispenses with the argument that has held about his rights to the territory of Chiapas and Soconusco department.” The position of Mexico is well seated in their rights of those territories. The final boundary treaty was signed in Mexico City on September 27 of 1882. The first article provides that: “The Republic of Guatemala forever renounce rights that judges have on the territory of the State of Chiapas and Soconusco your district, and therefore considers the territory as part of the United Mexican States.” As for the delineation of the border itself, Mexico and Guatemala agreed to use straight lines between key points known and accepted by both countries. The measurement and demarcation work was completed in 1902. Soconusco in Guatemala advanced to the Suchiate river and Mexico received the county of Motozintla.

Social media reports of wall during 2016 U.S. presidential campaign

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, social media pages,[2] along with mainstream media sources ran erroneous stories stating that Mexico had built a continuous, fortified wall on the Guatemala–Mexico border. Social media posts and emails often included pictures of other border fences purporting to be a Mexico-Guatemala wall. The pictures were typically of the Mexico–United States barrier, the Israel–Egypt barrier, or the Israeli West Bank barrier.[2]

Immigration issues


In 2006, Joseph Contreras profiled the issue of Guatemalan immigrants illegally entering Mexico for Newsweek magazine and pointed out that while Mexican president Vicente Fox demanded that the United States grant legal residency to millions of illegal Mexican immigrants, Mexico had only granted legal status to 15,000 illegal immigrants. Additionally, Contreras found that at coffee farms in the Mexican state Chiapas, “40,000 Guatemalan field hands endure backbreaking jobs and squalid living conditions to earn roughly [US]$3.50 a day” and that some farmers “even deduct the cost of room and board from that amount.”[3] The Mexican National Institute of Migration estimated that 400,235 people crossed the border illegally every year and that around 150,000 of them intended to enter the United States.[4]

Gun and drug running

The border with Guatemala is the primary source of military grade weaponry – including rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, plastic explosives, and grenade launchers – used by the Mexican drug cartels. The weapons are typically stolen from Central American government munitions stockpiles.[5] A 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable disclosed by WikiLeaks states that Mexico does not have sufficient resources to patrol the border with only 125 officers to monitor the entire 577-mile border.[6] Mexican officials confirm that they do not have sufficient resources as they have been concentrating their efforts on fighting the cartels in the North.[7]

Cities and Border crossing

In 2014, Mexico’s border with Guatemala and Belize had 11 formal crossings (10 with Guatemala and 1 with Belize) and more than 370 informal crossings.[8] As part of an effort known as Plan Frontera Sur (Southern Border Plan), which is intended to limit illegal Central American entry into the country, Mexico will increase the number of formal crossings.[8]

Guatemala and Mexico had 10 formal border crossings in 2004:

  • Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas – Ciudad Tecún Umán, San Marcos
  • Talismán, Chiapas|Talismán, Chiapas – El Carmen, San Marcos|El Carmen, San Marcos
  • Union Juárez, Chiapas – Toquían Grande, San Marcos
  • Mazapa de Madero, Chiapas – Sibinal, San Marcos
  • Ciudad Cuahtemoc, Chiapas – La Mesilla, Huehuetenango
  • Carmen Xhán, Chiapas – Gracias a Dios, Huehuetenango
  • Nuevo Orizaba, Chiapas – Ingenieros, El Quiché
  • Frontera Corozal, Chiapas – Bethel, El Petén
  • El Ceibo, Tabasco – El Ceibo, El Petén
  • El Martillo, Tabasco – El Naranjo, El Petén

The Suchiate River (Spanish: Río Suchiate, Spanish pronunciation: [suˈtʃjate]) is a river that marks the southwesternmost part of the border between Mexico (state of Chiapas) and Guatemala (department of San Marcos). From its sources on the southern slopes of the Tacaná volcano in the Sierra Madre range of Guatemala, the river flows in a south-southwesterly direction to the border with Mexico at Unión Juárez (15.070549°N 92.059722°W), past the border towns Talismán and El Carmen, and then Ciudad Tecún Umán and Ciudad Hidalgo (Chiapas) further downstream, where the Puente Rodolfo Robles and a railway bridge cross the river, and on to the Pacific Ocean. Its name comes from the Nahuatl name Xochiatl meaning “flower-water”.

Suchiate River

Suchiate River from the border bridge between Ciudad Hidalgo and Ciudad Tecun Uman
Native name (río Suchiate)
Country Guatemala, Mexico
Basin features
Main source Guatemala
(San Marcos)
3,000 m (9,800 ft)
15.163187°N 91.956081°W
River mouth Pacific Ocean
0 m (0 ft)
Basin size 1,400 km2 (540 sq mi)
Physical characteristics
Length 161 km (100 mi)

The pre-Columbian archaeological site of Izapa lies along the river.


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