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 EMILIANO ZAPATA Hero of the Mexican Revolution

Emiliano Zapata
Emiliano Zapata
The Mexican Revolutionary war hero Emiliano Zapata was born in 1879 in the Mexican state of Morelos. The son of a farmer and a natural born leader, Zapata's destiny soon revealed itself. His father died when he was 17 and shortly thereafter, Emiliano assumed the responsibility of providing for his family. The village where he lived, San Miguel Anencuilco, was a close-knit group of peasants whose lives depended upon the small tracts of land they farmed. All the villager's lands were threatened, however, by the corrupt government of dictator Porfirio Diaz.

Mexico had a long established hierarchy in which rich landowners owned enormous tracts of land (haciendas). Peasants (campesinos) also owned land, so to speak, but these small plots of land were subject to seizure from the government. Due to the governmental practice of "land reform", instituted by Porfirio Diaz, entire villages disappeared. Peasants who previously owned their own farms now were forced to work for large plantation owners who had usurped their land and held the farmers in servitude. As the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz continued unabated, abuses against peasant farmers escalated and the seeds of revolution were born.

Emiliano Zapata was of Mestizo blood and he spoke Nahuatl, the indigenous language of central Mexico. Widely respected by his community, the village elected Zapata to be their leader in 1909. He quickly recruited an insurgent army of farmers from his village to protect the farms in their immediate community.

As 1910 came into focus, Francisco Madero, the son of a wealthy hacienda owner, sought the presidency of Mexico. Educated in both France and the United States, Madero's platform included the restoration of land to the campesinos (peasant farmers). Due to the many abuses they had long suffered, these words by this well spoken man were just what the people of Mexico longed to hear. Madero's proclaimed stance also inspired Zapata, who promptly expanded his recruitment activities, traveling beyond his home village into the surrounding countryside for new recruits. Fences installed by hacienda owners were torn down as Zapata and his army combed the countryside.

Emilian Zapata on horse
Emiliano Zapata on horseback
Diaz sought to quell the insurgents by imprisoning the followers of Madero. His expectation was to regain total control shortly. This was not to be. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 had begun and the history of Mexico would forever be changed. Zapata and his men fought the government troops in the south of Mexico while Pancho Villa fought in the north.

After Diaz was removed from office, an interim president took over until elections could be held. Francisco Madero became the new president of Mexico. Many, including Zapata, quickly became disillusioned with Madero, however. Not following through on his promises to the people of Mexico, the revolutionaries, already organized and bearing arms, sought to overthrow the newly installed government. In 1911, Zapata published his Plan de Ayala, a 2,000 word treatise outlining the steps needed for social reform, including the restoration of land to the citizens of Mexico and the ousting of Madero who Zapata believed was incapable of fulfilling the goals of the revolution.

A core component of Zapata's Plan de Ayala was first and foremost to have 1/3 of all land owned by the wealthy hacienda owners confiscated and returned to the peasantry. Compensation would apply to those owners who agreed to this mandate while those who did not, would still have their lands redistributed with no compensation forthcoming. The Mexican Revolution continued and Zapata's famous slogan of "Tierra y Libertad" (land and liberty) became the rallying cry of the revolution.

Emiliano Zapata
Emiliano Zapata
Madero eventually was murdered in 1913 by General Victoriano Huerta and the revolution raged on. Huerta installed himself as the new president with a rigged election and then was forced to flee the country by a new seeker for the presidential office, Venustiano Carranza. Carranza did become president and his government and policies were rejected by many, including the revolutionaries Zapata and Villa. Threatened by Zapata's enormous popularity, Carranza arranged for Zapata's murder in a carefully planned ambush that was carried out on April 10, 1919.

Today, the name of Emiliano Zapata lives on. A true hero of the Mexican Revolution, his commitment to social justice is remembered by all Mexicans.

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