Jalisco, Colima States Involved in Nasty Territorial Dispute

Article excerpt

Territorial disputes are not uncommon between countries around the world but are a bit more unusual between states within the same country. In Mexico, a bitter land dispute between the western states of Jalisco and Colima developed in the late 1980s and continues unresolved to this date, partly because of changes to the Constitution that left the high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN) out of the equation. The animosity between the two states reached such a high level this year that the federal government was asked to send troops to keep the peace. The disagreement also has partisan undertones, with the governing Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), which has controlled the Jalisco statehouse for more than two decades, and the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which governs Colima, accusing each other of worsening the situation and failing to act in good faith.

The most visible evidence of the dispute regards ownership of the Pena Colorada mine, which spans 5,000 hectares. The facility, owned by the Argentine-Italian consortium Ternium, contains deposits of 200 million tons of iron ore and is the main supplier to Mexico's largest steel companies. The mine is physically within the territorial limits of Colima state, but the concession documents filed with the Secretaria de Economia (SE) in March 2000 registered the mine in Cuautitlan on the Jalisco side of the border.

The mine is in an area that Jalisco claims was ceded without justification in the 19th century. But the dispute regarding the mine is only a piece of the fight about territory, which includes the communities of Minatitlan in Colima and Cuautitlan in Jalisco.

Supreme Court unable to intervene

A major problem for the two states is the inability to resolve the dispute through the courts. In 1998, the SCJN agreed to hear Jalisco's claim to the land but failed to hand down a decision after several years because of the complexity of the issue. The high court eventually had to relinquish the case after the Senate approved constitutional reforms that placed territorial disputes in the hands of the upper house of Congress, effective in December 2005.

The Senate has created a commission to deal with the matter, but the panel has taken little action on the Jalisco-Colima row. As a result, cooperation between the two states has suffered.

Tensions have simmered below the surface for a number of years with two other areas under dispute: the region near the Volcan de Colima-Cerro Hijos and the coastal region of Pena Blanca, Playa de Oro, and La Culebra. "The municipalities of Manzanillo in Colima and Cihuatlan in Jalisco both claim La Culebra and nearby El Rebalse as part of their territory," said the Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada.

There are economic reasons for the two sides to both lay claim to the land. For example, the dispute about the coastal communities is rooted in the economic potential of the area. "This land contains developments and tourism complexes, such as Pena Colorada, which signify millions of dollars in revenues," specialists at the Universidad de Guadalajara (UdeG) said at a forum on July 13.

The most contentious of the three areas, however, is the Cuautitlan-Minatitlan region, where the Pena Colorada mine is located. Tensions took a turn for the worse this year because the territorial boundaries remain unresolved. Violence nearly erupted in April, after Colima Gov. Silverio Cavazos Cevallos sent a contingent of state police to prevent workers hired by the municipality of Cihuatlan in Jalisco from digging a well in the disputed territory.

The argument regarding land goes far beyond the mine and includes several adjacent communities, including Plan de Mendez. In the 1950 census on population and housing, the government's statistics agency (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geografia e Informatica, INEGI) placed Plan de Mendez in Colima. …