Emiliano Zapata is a very important figure in the history of Mexico. He was a key leader during the Mexican Revolution, and a pioneer of agrarianism, or farmer’s rights.

Emiliano Zapata was born in Anenecuilco, in the Mexican state of Morelos, on August 8, 1879. Zapata was a mestizo: a person of mixed indigenous and Spanish descent. His father was a peasant who trained and sold horses. He died when Emiliano was 18, leaving him to take care of his mother and three sisters. The next year, he was forced into the army for protesting against the haciendero (landowner) that took his community’s land. After serving for six months, he was discharged to a landowner to train his horses.

When Zapata was 30 years old, the villagers elected him president of the village’s board of defense. After trying in vain to negotiate with the hacienda, they were able to regain, by force, the land taken from them. They used the ejido system on this land, which was the communal method used by the Mexican indigenous people where everyone worked and shared the benefits.

In 1910, Francisco Madero, the son of a wealthy landowner, started a revolution against the dictator of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz. Madero promised to return lands seized by haciendas back to the peasants. Zapata supported this idea, and went from town to town in the Mexican countryside, organizing bands of revolutionaries. That November, the government began rounding up Maderistas, as the revolutionaries were called, and jailing or killing them. The die was cast.

While Zapata continued to recruit more forces, Madero fled to the United States to escape the Mexican government. He came back in 1911, and the revolution began in earnest. The peasants, who passionately supported the revolution, quickly disarmed local police. While Zapata’s forces fought in the south, Pancho Villa, a supporter of Madero, fought in the north. On May 21, after a long battle, the Mexican government and Madero signed the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez. The treaty temporarily gave the presidency to a tool of the rich landowners: Francisco León de la Barra. Zapata disliked de la Barra, and he continued his fight even after the treaty was signed, capturing the city of Cuernavacas, the capital of his home state.

Later that year, Madero was elected president, and he and Zapata met. Zapata found that Madero’s promises were empty, and the two parted company as enemies. In this same year, Emiliano married his wife, Josefa, at the age of 31.

Zapata was not the type of man to sit idly by while his people still suffered. He knew what had to be done: Madero had to be removed. With the rallying cry of ¡Tierra y libertad! (Land and liberty), Zapata promised to take one third of the hacienderos’ land, compensate them for it, and redistribute it to the ejidos. Hacienderos who refused would have their land taken by force, without compensation. This was called the plan of Ayala.

In 1913, Madero was killed by a former government general. This general took power for a short period before he was overthrown by a moderate Constitutionalist, by the name of Carranza. This left three revolutionary parties in Mexico. Pancho Villa’s Villistas in the north, Zapata’s Zapatistas in the south, and Carranza’s Constitutionalist Army. Carranza, looking to unite the three forces, and take power, called a meeting between the factions at Aguascalientes. Zapata and Villa’s delegations wanted to appoint one president, while Carranza disagreed. At this point, Zapatistas and Villistas merged into a larger group, the Conventionalists, named after the convention where they met.

Now there was a new war, this time between the Conventionalists and the Constitutionalists. On November 24, 1913, Zapata’s Conventionalists took Mexico City. The residents were shocked when troops went door to door, asking for whatever charity they could spare, instead of violently pillaging the city, as they had expected.

While this was going on, Carranza’s government had its capital at Veracruz. Mexico had 2 governments. Carranza’s forces managed to defeat Villa, and had pushed Zapata’s forces back to Morelos. The two sides were deadlocked. Carranza couldn’t take Morelos with a charismatic man like Zapata in command. Carranza concocted a plan to assassinate Zapata.

The Constitutionalists had intercepted communication between Zapata and a traitor to the Mexican army. The traitor was forced, by threat of execution, to call Zapata to a false meeting. At 2:10 PM, on April 10, 1919, Zapata was killed by Mexican federal troops.

The next month, Zapata’s lieutenant led Zapatista forces into the capital. Carranza fled, and the Zapatistas were in control. The revolution had ended. Zapata’s dream was reality.

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