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
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
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
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