La otra frontera: Exiles, engineering, and state power in the Chiapan borderlands

Aaron Margolis, University of Texas at El Paso


This dissertation examines the political, cultural, and economic history of the Chiapan borderlands from its political incorporation into the post-independence Mexican state in 1821 until the arrival of Guatemalan refugees in the 1980’s. This history is explored through the directives, interactions, and policies of officials from Mexico City as the borderlands drifted in and out of the orbit of the priorities of the changing governments of independent Mexico. A large part of the dissertation examines how the post-revolutionary Mexican state re-discovered and conceptualized the borderlands as a both a threat to national security and a potential site of energy derived from its natural resources, especially the Usumacinta and Grijalva rivers. Utilizing national archives the narrative traces how the growing federal bureaucracy sought to control the borderlands through demographic commissions, increased border patrols, and finally the many arms of national security apparatus. Meanwhile, Mexican diplomats and engineers viewing the history of their interactions with the United States through optimistic lenses, sought to engage their traditional rival of Guatemala in transboundary cooperation. For decades Mexican officials presented plans for shared demarcation and management of borderland rivers to their Guatemalan counterparts, a necessary step for Mexican engineers to build planned massive hydroelectric dams on rivers that began south of the boundary line. Finally, the dissertation examines the reaction by key departments of the Mexican state, such as the military, to the arrival of thousands of Guatemalan refugees fleeing the brutal counterinsurgeny of the 1980’s. As Mexican officials sought to close the border, the influential Dioceses of San Cristobal de las Casas, led by Bishop Samuel Ruiznon-government institutions in the absence of moral state power.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Latin American history|Economic history|Latin American Studies|Political science

Recommended Citation

Margolis, Aaron, "La otra frontera: Exiles, engineering, and state power in the Chiapan borderlands" (2015). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3708553.