Knowledge Session: Who Was Emiliano Zapata?

©‘Zapata Armado de Lata!‘by Artist Shalak, Brazil, Oct 2011 

Emiliano zapata i am hip hop magazineEmili­ano Zapata was born in Anenecuilco, in the Mex­ic­an state of Morelos, just south of Mex­ico City. It was in this region that Zapata would spend his life. His career would be ded­ic­ated to the people of the region, and it was in Morelos that he would make the supreme sac­ri­fice for his beliefs and for the people he so loved.

Zapata lost his fath­er when he was 17 years old (in 1896), and thus his edu­ca­tion was cut short. He took up work as a horse train­er to sup­port his fam­ily, his moth­er and nine sib­lings. One of his broth­ers, Eulalio, would join him in the revolu­tion. Zapata’s main cause was the return of stolen land to its right­ful own­ers, the peas­ants of Morelos. It is said that he kept the deeds of the peas­ant fam­il­ies in a tin box he had with him always. Over time, the Span­ish deeds that proved peas­ant own­er­ship of the lands had been ignored and even res­cin­ded. The hacenda­dos (hacienda own­ers) had taken over the land to build money-mak­ing hacien­das, which used the labor of those who truly owned the land, to har­vest and man­u­fac­ture sug­ar cane and oth­er crops for export. The sug­ar-pro­du­cing hacien­das of Morelos were notori­ous for bad work­ing con­di­tions and the work­ers were vir­tu­al slaves under the whips of the hacenda­dos’ fore­men.

In 1909, around the time of his 30th birth­day, Zapata was offi­cially put in charge of the vil­lage coun­cil and was thus offi­cially respons­ible for the wel­fare of the people of Anenecuilco. Zapata pro­tec­ted his vil­lage with the kind of care and atten­tion to detail he would have giv­en to pro­tect­ing his own fam­ily.

Zapata ini­tially sup­por­ted the anti-reelec­tion­ist move­ment of Fran­cisco I. Madero, and formed the Lib­er­a­tion Army of the South to fight for the Maderi­sta revolt. But once Madero became pres­id­ent, Zapata quickly became dis­en­chanted. He real­ized that Madero would not insti­tute true agrari­an reform. In fact, Madero was from a fam­ily of rich land-own­ers, and while in many ways his heart was in the right place, he was not about to expro­pri­ate the lands of mem­bers of his own class. There­fore, just around the time Madero was sworn in as pres­id­ent, Zapata and his men issued the Plan de Ayala (1911), in which Zapata broke with the pres­id­ent. Madero sent troops south to rout the Zapatis­tas. Zapata joined forces with anoth­er former Maderi­sta, Pas­cu­al Orozco, who was based in the north. Orozco was a dis­gruntled former gen­er­al who had fought for Madero along­side Fran­cisco Villa. Orozco, with the sup­port of Zapata, launched an upris­ing against Madero in March, 1912. It was soon put down by Madero’s gen­er­al, Vic­tori­ano Huerta.Emiliano zapata i am hip hop magazine

Zapata was a hero to the fam­il­ies in his region, although he and his men con­tinu­ously drew the wrath of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment down upon Morelos. The Zapatis­tas fought against a series of fed­er­al agents sent to des­troy them, but none was more bru­tal than Juven­cio Robles. When Madero was over­thrown in a coup engin­eered by Vic­tori­ano Huerta (him­self a bru­tal dic­tat­or), Zapata declared war against Huerta. Huerta respon­ded by declar­ing every poor per­son in Morelos a Zapatista. He brought Juven­cio Robles back to carry out a “slash and burn” policy to, in Huerta’s words, “depop­u­late the state.” It was tan­tamount to gen­o­cide.

Once again, Zapata and his men defen­ded their people at great cost, and ral­lied around Venus­ti­ano Car­ranza‘s Plan de Guada­lupe (April, 1913) – which cre­ated the Con­sti­tu­tion­al­ist rebel­lion, designed to defeat Huerta and strip him of power. But Car­ranza, too, would prove to be a dis­ap­point­ment. After Huerta’s defeat, and Carranza’s seiz­ing of de facto power in Mex­ico (he would not offi­cially become pres­id­ent until 1917), a con­ven­tion was called among the vari­ous revolu­tion­ary fac­tions. They met in Octo­ber, 1914 in the town of Aguas Cali­entes, to determ­ine what could be done about Carranza’s lack of legit­im­acy. Although Zapata would not attend the meet­ing, he and Villa met that Decem­ber, in the vil­lage of Xochimilco. The two gen­er­als, much loved by the com­mon people, then rode with their troops into Mex­ico City, tak­ing con­trol over the cap­it­al and cap­tur­ing the ima­gin­a­tion of the masses. Unfor­tu­nately, unwill­ing to rule Mex­ico, they each soon returned home – Zapata south to Morelos and Villa north to Chi­hua­hua. Car­ranza retained power.

As pres­id­ent, Car­ranza decided he had to elim­in­ate Zapata as a threat. An intric­ate plot was devised by Carranza’s right-hand man, Pablo Gonza­lez, by which a fed­er­al gen­er­al named Guajardo would pre­tend to defect to the Zapatis­tas. He would work meth­od­ic­ally to prove him­self anxious to leave Carranza’s army and join Zapata. Guajardo staged a rout against oth­er fed­er­al troops, sac­ri­fi­cing scores of men for what was essen­tially a “per­form­ance” to gain cred­ib­il­ity with Zapata. Finally, a deal was sealed. Zapata and Guajardo were to meet to sign an agree­ment to join forces at the hacienda of Chi­n­ameca. In the early after­noon of April 10, 1919, Zapata rode into the hacienda with just a hand­ful of his men, indic­at­ing to the rest of them that they should wait some dis­tance away. A bugle soun­ded four times, and when Guajardo’s sol­diers were to deliv­er a mil­it­ary salute to Zapata, they instead poin­ted their rifles at him and his small con­tin­gent. The men wait­ing for him heard the two vol­leys, and saw his now-rider­less horse run toward them, covered in blood. They knew their lead­er had been slain.

Soon after, signs con­tain­ing one of Zapata’s mot­tos began appear­ing around Morelos, as both a memori­al and an inspir­a­tion for his men to con­tin­ue the fight: “It is bet­ter to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

Read more about the Zapatis­tas

Read more about Mex­ico

Emili­ano Zapata’s Funer­al 


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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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