Revolutionary Of The Week
Emiliano Zapata was born August 8, 1879 in the village of Anenecuilco, Morelos, Mexico. He was of Mestizo heritage & was the son of a peasant sharecropper/owner of a small plot of land.
From the age of 18, after his father died, he had to support his mother & 3 sisters-which he did so successfully. The family farm prospered & raised the already respectable status of Zapata in his village.
Im Septmember 1909, the residents of Anenecuilco elected Zapata president of the village's "defense committee", which was an old group in charge of defending the community's interests. It was Zapata's duty to represent his village's rights before the then dictator/President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, as well as the Governer of Morelos, Pablo Escandon.
During the 1880's, Mexico had a boom in sugar cane production. This led to the acquisition of more & more land by the plantation owners. Their plantations grew in size, while whole village's disappeared & more peasants lost their farms & livelihoods or were forced to work for plantation owners. In Zapata's neighboring village, a plantation began encroaching more on his farming land. This was the first conflict where Emiliano Zapata recieved his reputation as a great leader & fighter. He led peaceful occupations & re-divisions of land, which rose his status & fame that gave him regional recognition.
In 1910, the son of a wealthy plantation owner, Francisco Madero, started a revolution against the goverment of President Diaz. His motives were mostly political, but his revolutionary plan included provisions for returing seized lands to peasant farmers. Zapata was intrigued & started organizing locals into revolutionary bands, riding from villages & tearing down plantation fences & opposing the elite's encroachment in their villages.
On Novemeber 18, the federal goverment started rounding up Madero's followers, & 2 days later the first rounds of the Mexican Revolution were fired. The Madero movement kept gaining strength & by the end of Novemeber, Zapata had fully joined it's ranks. Zapata continued to build up his Morelos group by training & equipping them. Soon his band of revolutionaries became known as Zapatista's. On February 14, Madero returned to Mexico from hiding & relaunched his revolution.
On March 11, 1911, the bloody phase of the Mexican Revolution began. The legenday Pancho Villa fought in the northern part of Mexico, while Zapata took the south. On May 19th, the Zapatista's took the town of Cuautla. 2 days later, Madero & the Mexican goverment signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez, which ended Porfirio Diaz's presidency & named Francisco Leon de la Barra as interim president.
Although Madero's demands were met, & Diaz was out of office, Zapata did not like Leon de la Barra as president. This presidents allegiance was clearly with the rich plantation owners who were trying to regain control. Zapata & 5,000 men entered & captured Cuernavaca, the capital of his native state, Morelos.
In 1919, Madero was elected president of Mexico, & Zapata met with him to discuss the demands of the peasants. The meeting turned bad & the former allies left angry. The situation in Mexico became bad, assassination attempts against the president surfaced, fighting between revolutionary forces & the goverment continued. In the "plan of Ayala", Zapata declared Madero incapable of fulfilling the goals of the revolution & promised to promote another president once his revolution succeeded, until elections could be held. As part of his plan, 1/3 of all land owned by plantation owners was to be confiscated, with compensation, & redistributed to the peasants. Any plantation owner who refused would have his land taken from him without compensation. The revolution was in full swing, & Zapata's famous slogan, " Tierra y Libertad", or Land & Liberty, was born.
In February of 1913, after about 3 years of violent struggles, the formerly loyal federal General Victoriano Huerta murdered Madero, & the Zapatista's reached Mexico City. Huerta offered to unite his & Zapata's troops in a combined assault on the city, but Zapata declined. Huerta was declared the new president after a sham of an election, but was forced to abandon the country in 1914. At this point there were 3 major revolutionary factions: Pancho Villa's army to the north, the "constitutional army" of Carranza, & the Zapatista's to the south. Carranza attempted to join all 3 forces & become the supreme Commander. He arranged a meeting & the Zapatista's & Villistas agreed to a new provisonal president. Carranza rejected their choice. War broke out between Carranza'a people & the Zapatista's & Villistas.
On November 24, Zapata ordered his army of over 25,000 to occupy Mexico City. Eventually Zapata & Villa agreed on installing a civilian to president. Carranza's forces managed to defeat Pancho Villa & isolate Zapata & Morelos. Carranza knew he could never fully take Mexico while Zapata was alive & in charge of his army. To get rid of his enemy, Carranza devised a trap. A letter had been intercepted in which Zapata invited a colonel of the Mexican army who showed leanings toward his cause to meet & join forces. This colonel, Jesus Guajardo, under the threat of execution as a traitor, pretended to agee to meet Zapata.
On April 10, 1919, Zapata walked into Carranza's trap. He was shot & killed by federal soldier's. But Carranza did not succeed by killing Zapata. One of Zapata's right hand men, Alvaro Obregon, entered the capital with a large force of Zapatista's. Carranza fled & the Zapatista's formed the 73rd goverment in Mexico's history of independence. In this goverment, the Zapatista's played a huge role, especially in the Dept. of Agriculture. Mexico was finally at peace.
Emiliano Zapata was an intelligent, rational leader, who tried to lead the people of Mexico out of extreme poverty. He was a realist who knew when to fight & when to play politics. His legacy lives on today in the modern Zapatista rebels of Chiapas, Mexico. Although different, they are attempting to achieve the same goals as Zapata--to lead their people out of despair & into a fair, democratic, free future.