Emiliano Zapata, born on August 8, 1879, in the village of Anenecuilco, Morelos (Mexico), Emiliano Zapata was of mestizo heritage and the son of a peasant medi er, (a sharecropper or owner of a small plot of land). From the age of eighteen, after the death of his father, he had to support his mother and three sisters and managed to do so very successfully. The little farm prospered enough to allow Zapata to augment the already respectable status he had in his native village. In September of 1909, the residents of Anenecuilco elected Emiliano Zapata president of the village's 'defense committee,' an age-old group charged with defending the community's interests. In this position, it was Zapata's duty to represent his village's rights before the president-dictator of Mexico, Porfirio D'i az, and the governor of Morelos, Pablo Esc and " on. During the 1880's, Mexico had experienced a boom in sugar cane production, a development that led to the acquisition of more and more land by the or plantation owners.
Their plantations grew while whole villages disappeared and more and more medi eros and other peasants lost their livelihoods or were forced to work on the haciendas. It was under these conditions that a plantation called El Hospital neighboring Zapata's village began encroaching more and more upon the small farmers' lands. This was the first conflict in which Emiliano Zapata established his reputation as a fighter and leader. He led various peaceful occupations and re-divisions of land, increasing his status and his fame to give him regional recognition.
In 1910, Francisco Madero, a son of wealthy plantation owners, instigated a revolution against the government of president D'i az. Even though most of his motives were political (institute effective suffrage and disallow reelections of presidents), Madero's revolutionary plan included provisions for returning seized lands to peasant farmers. The latter became a rallying cry for the peasantry and Zapata began organizing locals into revolutionary bands, riding from village to village, tearing down hacienda fences and opposing the landed elite's encroachment into their villages. On November 18, the federal government began rounding up Maderistas (the followers of Francisco Madero), and only forty-eight hours later, the first shots of the Mexican Revolution were fired. While the government was confident that the revolution would be crushed in a matter of days, the Mader ista Movement kept gaining in strength and by the end of November, Emiliano Zapata had fully joined its ranks.
Zapata, a rather cautious, soft-spoken man, had become a revolutionary. During the first weeks of 1911, Zapata continued to build his organization in Morelos, training and equipping his men and consolidating his authority as their leader. Soon, Zapata's band of revolutionaries, poised to change their tactics and take the offensive, were known as Zapatistas. On February 14, Francisco Madero, who had escaped the authorities to New Orleans, returned to Mexico, knowing that it was time to restart his revolution with an all-out offensive.
Less than a month later, on March 11, 1911, 'a hot, sticky Saturday night,' the bloody phase of the Mexican Revolution began at Villa de Ayala. There was no resistance from the villagers, who were mostly sympathetic to the revolution, being sharecroppers or hacienda workers themselves, and the local police were disarmed quickly. Not all battles that followed were this quick, however. The revolution took its bloody course with the legendary Pancho Villa fighting in the northern part of Mexico, while Zapata remained mainly south of Mexico City.
On May 19, after a week of extremely fierce fighting with government troops, the Zapatistas took the town of Cuautla. Only forty-eight hours later, Francisco Madero and the Mexican government signed the Treaty of Ciudad Ju " are, which ended the presidency of Porfirio D'i az and named Francisco Le " on de la Barra, former ambassador to Washington, as interim president. Under different circumstances, this could have meant the end of the Mexican Revolution. Madero's most important demands had been met, D'i az was out of office, and regular elections were to be held to determine his successor. Le " on de la Barra, however, was not a president to Zapata's liking.
While of great personal integrity, his political skills were lacking. The new president could not assuage the peasants, especially since his allegiance was clearly with the rich planters who were trying to regain control of Mexico, aided by the conditions of the Treaty of Ciudad Ju " are. Even though Zapata had been ordered to cease all hostilities, he and 5,000 men entered and captured Cuernavaca, the capital of his native state of Morelos. In 1911, Madero was elected president of Mexico, and Zapata met with him to discuss the demands of the peasantry. The meeting was fruitless and the former allies parted in anger.
The only joy those days held for the thirty-one-year-old Zapata was his marriage to his bride Josefa, only six days after the ill-fated meeting with the president. Officially, the Zapatistas were disbanded and Zapata himself was in retirement. The police forces, in disarray after fighting the revolutionary forces, were no match for the new wave of bandits that were now roaming the land. The situation in Mexico deteriorated, assassination plots against the new president surfaced, renewed fighting between government and revolutionary forces ensued, and the smell of revolution was once again hanging over the cities of Mexico. In the 'Plan of Ayala' (the city of his forced retirement), Zapata declared Madero incapable of fulfilling the goals of the revolution and promised to appoint another provisional president, once his revolution succeeded, until elections could be held. As part of his plan, a third of all land owned by the was to be confiscated, with compensation, and redistributed to the peasantry.
Any plantation owner who refused to cede his land would have it taken from him without compensation. The revolution was once again in full swing, and it was in these days that Zapata first used his now famous slogan of Tierra y Libertad or Land and Liberty. It was in February of 1913, after almost three years of violent struggle, that the formerly loyal federal General Victoria no Huerta murdered Madero, and the Zapatistas reached the outskirts of Mexico City. Huerta offered to unite his and Zapata's troops in a combined assault on the city, but Zapata declined. Even though Huerta eventually was declared the new president, after a sham of an election, he was forced to abandon the country in 1914, after yet another revolutionary faction, under 'constitutionalist' Venustiano Carranza, forced his ouster.
At this point there were three major revolutionary powers in Mexico, the army of Pancho Villa to the north (the Villistas), the 'Constitutionalist Army' of Carranza, and the Zapatistas to the south. In an attempt to consolidate these forces and become their supreme commander, Carranza arranged a meeting, which was held at Aguascalientes, in which the Zapatistas and the Villistas -- a majority at the meeting -- agreed to a new provisional president, a choice which Carranza rejected. War broke out between Carranza's moderates and the more radical Zapatistas and Villistas. On November 24, Emiliano Zapata ordered the Liberation Army of the South (the new name for his fighting force of over 25,000 men) to occupy Mexico City. Eventually, Villa and Zapata held a meeting at the national palace and agreed to install a civilian in the presidency.
The war had not ceased, however, and Carranza, whose government operated from Veracruz, held a constitutional convention, naturally without inviting Zapata or Villa. After the convention, Carranza's forces managed to defeat Pancho Villa and isolate Zapata in Morelos. 'Zapata ruled Morelos; but Carranza ruled Mexico. Morelos could never survive indefinitely alone... ' The federal powers under Carranza (a government now officially recognized by the Wilson Administration) and the Zapatistas in Morelos seemed at a permanent stalemate. Carranza knew that he could never fully take Mexico while Zapata was still alive and in charge of his army.
To rid himself of his enemy, Carranza devised a trap. A letter had been intercepted in which Zapata invited a colonel of the Mexican army who had shown leanings toward his cause to meet and join forces. This colonel, Jes " us Guajardo, under the threat of being executed as a traitor, pretended to agree to meet Zapata and defect to his side. On Thursday, April 10, 1919, Zapata walked into Carranza's trap as he met with Guajardo in the town of China meca. There, at 2: 10 PM, Zapata was shot and killed by federal soldiers, and as the man Zapata hit the ground, dead instantly, the legend of Zapata reached its climax. Carranza did not achieve his goal by killing Zapata.
On the contrary, in May of 1920, 'Alvaro Oreg " on, one of Zapata's right-hand men, entered the capital with a large fighting force of Zapatistas, and after Carranza had fled, formed the seventy-third government in Mexico's history of independence. In this government, the Zapatistas played an important role, especially in the Department of Agriculture. Mexico was finally at peace..