Emiliano Zapata

    Emiliano Zapata was born on August 8, 1879 in Anenecuilco, a small village in the southern state of Morelos.  He was born the ninth out of ten children to a small peasant (campesino) family.  Zapata only attended school for a small amount of time, but he did manage to learn how to read and write.[1]

     In his youth Zapata often came into conflict with the law, and in 1897 he was forced to flee Morelos, “to avoid arrest for a minor infraction.”[2]  After this Zapata began voicing concerns for the rights of the campesino and agitating for rural land reforms and local liberties.  By 1906 he had become active in defending the land belonging to the village of Anenecuilco in the Mexican courts.  In 1909, the village elected Zapata to be president of the village council.[3] 

     When, in 1910, Francisco Madero called for a revolution against the entrenched dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, Zapata responded.  In March of 1911, he formed a small guerilla band that managed to capture Cuautla, Morelos, the center of the regional and a strategic location that helped remove Díaz from power.[4] 

     Zapata, however, quickly came to odds with the Madero government, which Zapata saw as being too dedicated to democracy, and charged with ignoring land reforms.  Madero himself was a hacienda owner, and as such, identified with the other large hacienda owners who quickly maneuvered to retain their power within the state.[5]  When Zapata refused to disarm his forces in August 1911, General Victoriano Huerta was sent against him, and Zapata was forced to retreat to the mountains and to continue his fight against the new regime.[6]

     In November, along with Otilio Montaño, a local school teacher, Zapata composed the Plan of Avala, which expressed the goals of the local peasants.  The plan called for the “return of the land the haciendas had stolen…the expropriation of one-third of all hacienda holding for villages without land titles, and the confiscation of the property of those who oppose Zapata’s rebellion.”[7]

     After Huerta’s coup in February 1913, Huerta tried to reconcile with Zapata.  Zapata, however, did not trust Huerta.  As the fighting continued Zapata managed to garner more support and to take control of all of Morelos, and parts of the other neighboring states, by the summer of 1914.  After Huerta was forced to flee into exile, Zapata’s troops came into contact with the troops of Venustiano Carranza and Francisco “Pancho” Villa.  After much consideration, Zapata decided to join forces with Villa, because, like Madero, Carranza was a hacienda owner and therefore less likely to support land reform.[8]  On December 4, 1914, Zapata and Villa met at Xochimilco to formally agree to their alliance, and on December 6 they entered Mexico City, which had been controlled by the Zapatista’s since November.  At the end of December, Zapata returned to Morelos and began to enact much of the land reform policies he had promised.  Unfortunately, many of the internal tensions managed to restrict Zapata’s actions.  Land was a major source of disagreement between the local villages and the guerillas did not always manage to get along with the civilians.[9] 

      In 1915, the tide in the revolution turned against Villa and Zapata, in favor of Carranza.  In August, 1915 Zapata’s army was forced to leave Mexico City and in 1916 Carranza’s army invaded Morelos.  Zapata began to look for other allies in the fight against Carranza, but the dissent within his own organization continued to grow, and a number of prominent leaders defected, including Montaño, who was then implicated in an attempted uprising against Zapata in May of 1917.  Zapata ordered the death of Montaño as a message to all traitors.[10]

     As a final attempt at an Alliance, Zapata asked Jesús Guajardo, a disaffected colonel in Carranza’s army, to join him for talks.  On April 10, 1919 Zapata and Guajardo met at Chinameco, and when Zapata road threw the gate of the hacienda he was shot dead by Guajardo’s troops. [11]




    [1] “Emiliano Zapata,” Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, ed. Barbara A. Tenenbaum, vol 5 (New York:  Charles Scribners’s Sons, 1996) 492.

     [2] Ibid.

     [3] Ibid.

    [4] Ibid., 493.

     [5] Ibid.

     [6] Ibid.

    [7] Ibid.

     [8] Ibid.

     [9] Ibid.

     [10] Ibid., 494.

     [11] Ibid.