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El Norte dispute
Disputed region
Native name: Disputa territorial del Norte
Other names: Los Pacíficos and the Yucatán/Los Pacíficos y Yucatán (Sierra)
Territorios del Norte y Yucatán (Mexico)
El Norte
El Norte: Baja California Peninsula and Sonora (left) and the Yucatán Peninsula (right)
El Norte dispute
Sierra (green), Mexico (orange), and El Norte territories (yellow)
Location Baja California peninsula, Sonora, and the Yucatán peninsula
Total islands 55
Major islands Guadalupe Island, Cedros Island, Revillagigedo Islands, Archangel Island, Tiburón Island
Area 242,390 km 2 (93,587 sq. mi.)
Highest point
Administered by
Flag of Sierra Sierra
Territories Flag of Pacifico Norte Pacífico Norte
Flag of Pacifico Sur Pacífico Sur
Crown dependencies Flag of Cancún Cancún
Flag of Yucatan Yucatán
Largest city Tijuana (1,672,383)
Claimed by
Flag of Sierra Sierra
Citations Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Baja California Peninsula and Sonora) and Treaty of Veracruz (Yucatán Peninsula)
Flag of Mexico (Fascist) Mexico
States Flag of Baja California Baja California
Flag of Baja California Sur Baja California Sur
Flag of Campeche Campeche
Flag of Quintana Roo Quintana Roo
Flag of Sonora Sonora
Flag of Yucatan (Mexico) Yucatán
Flag of France France
Minor territory Clipperton Island (only claim)
Population 8,135,141 (as of 2010)
Density 33.56/km2 (86.92/sq. mi.)/km²
El Norte dispute refers to the territorial disputes over the Baja California Peninsula, Sonora, and associated islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Yucatán Peninsula and its associated islands in the Caribbean Sea between the Kingdom of Sierra and the Mexican Social Republic. In Sierra, the disputed regions include the territories of Pacífico Norte and Pacífico Sur (known as Los Pacíficos), and the crown dependencies of Cancún and Yucatán (known as the Maya Rivera). In Mexico, they are known as the Mexican states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Yucatán. The Baja California Peninsula and Sonora have been controlled by Sierra since 1848, while the Yucatán Peninsula has been controlled by Sierra since 1956. The dispute also includes the trilateral dispute over Clipperton Island between Sierra, Mexico, and France in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The Mexican government has challenged Sierra's sovereignty over the territories in lapses throughout the two centuries, and has actively promoted El Norte as integral parts of Mexico since 2003. The combined populations of the territories in question number over 8 million, and include over 242,000 square kilometers of land (93,500 square miles), and 55 individual islands scattered throughout the Eastern Pacific, Sea of Cortés, Gulf of Mexico, and Yucatán Channel.

Sierra argues that its control and administration over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora is justified by citing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which Mexico signed in recognition of independence for Sierra's predecessor state, the California Republic, and included territorial concessions over Californian-occupied territories. Although neither the Baja California Peninsula nor Sonora were administered together as part of Alta California at the time of the Mexican-American War, they were invaded by Californian militiamen with the aid of Brazoria and the United States. The occupied territories were not named in the treaty, although the Californian government held that the treaty's territorial concessions extended onto such areas, which the Mexican government initially objected, but acquiesced in 1855 following the normalization of relations under a new administration. In 1858, the Kingdom of Sierra succeeded the California Republic and explicitly named the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora as part of the nation's integral territory. Meanwhile, Sierra's claims over the Yucatán Peninsula are supported by the Treaty of Veracruz, which was signed between Sierra and Mexico in 1956, shortly after the 1956 Mexican coup d'état when newly-installed and pro-American Mexican President Francisco Alarcón transferred the territory to the Sierran Crown as a gesture of goodwill. During the coup and related conflict, Sierran forces occupied the Yucatán Peninsula to protect Anglo-American businesses (mainly fruit companies), citizens, and interests there from socialist forces. The constitutionality of the administrative transfer was openly challenged in 1976 after Alcarón's regime ended by President Hector Párraga Villajos. The two distinct and separated regions became collectively known as "El Norte" in Mexico, a term which was later adopted by Sierra itself. In 1981, League of Nations Special Commission on Decolonization excluded El Norte from its list of non-self-governing territories, and in 1984, the International Court of Justice in Mexico v. Sierra affirmed Sierra's sovereignty over El Norte in its entirety. Despite this landmark ruling, Mexico has filed a number of litigation cases against Sierra over various issues related to the dispute. Several international organizations including the Conference of American States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization have officially supported Sierra's claims. It has threatened full military action against Mexico, insisting any attempt to violate Sierra's sovereignty over El Norte could justify a militarized response.

Mexico argues that Sierra's control over El Norte is illegal occupation and is a form of imperialism. It contests the legality and merits of Sierra's claims over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, maintaining that the territories were never conclusively mentioned in the treaty. In addition, it claims the territorial acquisitions were illegally occupied by the California Republic as leverage against the Mexican state, and were taken while diplomatic negotiations were underway between the belligerents without prior Mexican consultation. It argues Mexico only appeared to accept California's claims over the disputed territory in 1853 as it was unable to send sufficient military forces to defend its sovereign territory, and was under the threat of total invasion by the other Anglo-American powers if it attempted to challenge California, and later Sierra. Thus, it argues this violates Article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, titled "Coercion of a State by the threat or use of force", a document both nations are signatories of. However, in the same document, in Article 4, titled "Non-retroactivity of the present Convention", it states that the Convention shall not be applied retroactively on treaties that existed prior to the Convention.

Within El Norte itself, residents have been divided on the issue. Administratively, El Norte is divided into four territories, of which Pacífico Norte and Pacífico Sur are organized, unincorporated territories of Sierra which operate under semi-autonomous, self-governing administrations, whilst Cancún and Yucatán are administered separately as crown dependencies subject to de jure control by Parliament and operating with de facto self-governments. Their status as crown dependencies, as opposed to standard territories, are a type of legal fiction implemented to avoid including Cancún and Yucatán as part of federal Sierra, while still subjecting them to the powers of the federal Parliament, and implications that the land was unilaterally taken from Mexico. Each of the four territories have held numerous referenda on their status, and in each instance until 2008, voters overwhelmingly preferred to remain Sierran, although varied on attaining provincial status, maintaining the status quo, or obtaining free association status. Since 2010, a significant independence movement and Mexican reunification movement has emerged in the Sonoran region of Pacífico Norte and the Yucatán.

El Norte dispute remains the most contentious issue complicating Mexico–Sierra relations. Military confrontations and other incidents occurring near El Norte's international borders and internal waters between the two states have made the dispute a major security issue in North America. Every major political party in Sierra and ruling governments have maintained support over Sierra's control over El Norte since 1858. In Mexico, there have been lapses in opinion. In the early 20th century, the Mexican government sporadically laid claim over Sonora, and the two states engaged in a number of border skirmishes until World War II. After the rise of General Francisco Alcáron as President of Mexico, Alcáron met with Prime Minister Henry Faulkner to sign the Treaty of Veracruz, whereby Mexico formally ceded the Yucatán Peninsula over to Sierra, and relinquish all active claims over the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora. Under Alcáron's military junta, public opposition to the territory transfer and support for irredentist movements were suppressed, while Mexico sought closer integration and diplomatic relations with its Anglo-American neighbors, including Sierra. Following Alcáron's death and the subsequent collapse of his government, left-wing President Villajos revived Mexico's claims over El Norte and appealed to the international community to recognize Mexico's claims. Since then, both the Mexican left and right have strongly supported Mexican irredentism over El Norte. More moderate and centrist parties have offered alternative opinions, with some supporting Mexican El Norte but maintaining the status quo, and others outright supporting Sierra's claims, rather than Mexico's. Mexican nationalism often includes references and imagery that shows a united Mexico that includes El Norte, while others show Aztlán, which claims a greater Mexico that includes Sierra, Brazoria, and southern Rainier. In 2013, Sierra suspended its diplomatic mission with Mexico, recalled all of its diplomatic staff in Mexico, and declared all Mexican diplomats in Sierra persona non grata, and placed economic sanctions against Mexico, as well as froze assets owned by Mexican officials, due to events related to the dispute.



Cancún Pacífico Norte
Flag of Cancún
Flag of Pacifico Norte
Capital: Cancún
Largest city: Cancún
Population (2010): 678,770
Capital: Mexicali
Largest city: Tijuana
Population (2010): 2,637,708
Pacífico Sur Yucatán
Flag of Pacifico Sur
Flag of Yucatan
Capital: La Paz
Largest city: Cabo San Lucas
Population (2010): 694,747
Capital: Mérida
Largest city: Mérida
Population (2010): 4,123,916

El Norte consists of the Baja California Peninsula, the historical Mexican state of Sonora, and the Yucatán Peninsula, as well as 55 islands in both the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The northern half of the Baja California Peninsula and Sonora are administered as Pacífico Norte, while the southern half of the Baja California Peninsula is administered as Pacífico Sur. The Yucatán Peninsula is administered as the Crown Dependency of Yucatán, while the city of Cancún is administered separately as its own crown dependency. The two crown dependencies are grouped together as the Sierran Maya Rivera and represents the only parts of Sierra which meets the Atlantic Ocean via the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The largest population centers in Los Pacíficos are the Tijuana–San Diego metropolitan area, which includes the city of Tijuana, Mexicali, Salsipuedes, and Ensenada. Other significant cities include La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, and Hermosillo. The largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula is Cancún, which includes the city proper and surrounding region.


Cityscape of Salsipuedes, Pacífico Norte, the third largest city in El Norte

Both Los Pacíficos and the Maya Rivera have advanced, regional, and diversified economies. In both areas, the single most important and largest industries are tourism, hospitality, agriculture, and manufacturing. The El Norte territories accounted for 15% of Sierra's $5.4 trillion GDP in 2017, and represents one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas. Los Pacíficos' demographics are diverse, with large immigrant populations from the Middle East (particularly Lebanon and Syria), East Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. The Baja California Peninsula is a popular tourist destination for Sierrans and international travelers due to its number of beach resort communities and natural excursions. It also has a significant community of Anglo-American snowbirds and retirees from further north.

At the international borders between Sierra and Mexico in both Los Pacíficos and the Maya Rivera, much of the boundary is marked by border walls and fences, which were mainly constructed by the Mexican government during the 1970s and 1980s. The border fence is maintained by the Mexican government and patrolled by the Mexican Border Patrol, whose primary goal is to keep Mexican citizens from leaving the country in order to enter Sierran El Norte. On the Sierran side of the border, some areas have an additional barrier built by the Sierran government, and is patrolled by the Sierran Border Patrol and Customs Authority. An informal demilitarized zone that has a width of about a mile on either side exists between the two states in order to prevent conflict escalation, and to allow authorities on either side to apprehend illegal crossers without impediment.

Since 2014, the Mexican government has banned travel to the Sierran mainland for its citizens, although it still allows citizens to travel to El Norte as it regards the areas as Mexican soil. It has not banned Sierran citizens from entering Mexico however. Likewise, although Sierra suspended relations with Mexico, it continues to accept non-diplomatic visas and passports from Mexico (issued at the Embassy of Brazoria, which acts as the protecting power for Sierran interests in Mexico) and it allows Sierran citizens to travel to Mexico, where Sierra continues to enjoy visa-waiver status. Mexican nationals who have permanent residency in Sierra may also apply for Sierran citizenship under a streamlined process when their domicile is in any of the four El Norte territories.

Mexican-American War

In 1821, Mexico gained its independence from the Kingdom of Spain and the Spanish Empire following the conclusion of the Mexican War of Independence and the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba. Mexico gained control over present-day Mexico, including all of El Norte, and nearly all of the land that forms federal Sierra and Brazoria, as well as parts of southern Rainier. The territory where Sierra lied was administered as Alta California, while El Norte was divided into three territories: Baja California, Sonora y Sinaloa, and Yucatán. The Mexican government experienced a prolonged period of political and social instability, and as a result, Alta California exercised a significant degree of autonomy and independence from Mexican affairs and governance. Alta California's economy was built on ranching and grazing, and its populace largely consisted of Spaniard and mestizo ranchers who owned large parcels of land, and Anglo-American immigrants (including African Americans and Creole people) from Brazoria and the United States (future United Commonwealth), as well as the indigenous Amerindian peoples. In addition, Alta California included the Channel Islands, where a large colony of French settlers and their descendants lived.

By the 1840s, the number of Anglo-Americans living in Alta California and rate of their arrival outpaced the local Californios. Mexico allowed foreigners to settle in the territories provided they learned and used the Spanish language and convert to Roman Catholicism. These two requirements were largely ignored by many Anglo-American settlers, most of whom continued to speak English only and retain their Protestant faith. As more Anglo-Americans arrived, Mexican authorities attempted to rein in Anglo-American immigration by refusing to sell or grant land and property to those labeled as illegal immigrants. Dissatisfaction with the Mexican government stirred civil unrest and tensions between the Anglo-Americans and Californios intensified as divided communities competed over land and resources.

In 1846, war broke out between Brazoria, the United States, and Mexico over territorial disputes. Anglo-American troops were sent to engage with Mexican forces throughout its territories, including Alta California, where Anglo-American civilians led a rebellion in Sonoma three months following the United States' formal declaration of war on Mexico. The localized rebellion in Sonoma soon spread across the rest of Alta California, which pitted the Anglo-American settlers and sympathetic Californios against local Mexican authorities and Californio loyalists. The rebels were resolved to achieve independence from Mexico due to years of perceived grievances committed by the Mexican government against English-speaking settlers by rallying behind the Bear Flag, a crudely assembled flag that bore a bear, a star, and a text that read the "California Republic".

The Anglo-American forces and rebels in Alta California were able to successfully overwhelm and defeat the Mexican government. Conflict ended in Alta California in 1847, following the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga. In 1848, peace negotiations were underway as Anglo-American troops marched into Mexico City and forced the government to capitulate. During the peace negotiation process, Californian rebels moved their forces downward into the sparsely populated Baja California Peninsula and Sonora to obtain more land for their territory. Sonora and the rest of northern Mexico featured rugged terrain and dry conditions that were still largely under the control of independent indigenous tribes who resisted Mexican rule.

Cession of Mexico

Intercession period

Transfer of the Yucatán Peninsula

Post-transfer status and dispute

El Norte status referenda

Sierra's positions

Mexico's positions

International opinions

Supports Sierra

Supports Mexico


Other stances


Incidents in the Sea of Cortes

Border conflicts



Diplomatic suspension

Other incidents


See also