Emiliano Zapata

Emiliano Zapata was born on Aug. 8, 1879, in Anenecuilco, Mexico
and died on April 10, 1919, in the state of Morelos, Mexico. He was a
Mexican revolutionary, champion of agrarianism, and fought in
guerrilla actions during and after the Mexican Revolution (1911-17).

Early career. Zapata was the son of a mestizo peasant who trained
and sold horses. He was orphaned at the age of 17 and had to
look after his brothers and sisters. In 1897 he was arrested
because he took part in a protest by the peasants of his village
against the hacienda that had appropriated their lands. After obtaining
a pardon, he continued agitation among the peasants, and so he
was drafted into the army. He served for six months, at which
point he was discharged to a landowner to train his horses. In
1909 his neighbors elected him president of the board of defense
for their village. After useless negotiations with the landowners,
Zapata and a group of peasants occupied by force the land that
had been appropriated by the haciendas and distributed it among
themselves.

Francisco Madero, a landowner of the north, had lost the elections in
1910 to the dictator Porfirio Diaz and had fled to the United
States, where he proclaimed himself president and then reentered
Mexico, aided by many peasant guerrillas. Zapata and his friends
decided to support Madero. In March 1911 Zapata's tiny force
took the city of Cuautla and closed the road to the capital,
Mexico City. A week later, Daz resigned and left for Europe,
appointing a provisional president. Zapata, with 5,000 men,
entered Cuernavaca, capital of the state of Morelos.

Madero entered Mexico City in triumph. Zapata met Madero there and
asked him to exert pressure on the provisional president to return
the land to the ejidos (the former Indian communal system of
landownership). Madero insisted on the disarmament of the guerrillas
and offered Zapata a recompense so that he could buy land, an
offer that Zapata rejected. Zapata began to disarm his forces but
stopped when the provisional president sent the army against the
guerrillas.

The Plan of Ayala. Madero was elected president in August 1911, and
Zapata met with him again but without success. With the help
of a teacher, Otilio Montano, Zapata prepared the Plan of Ayala,
which declared Madero incapable of fulfilling the goals of the
revolution. The signers renewed the revolution and promised to
appoint a provisional president until there could be elections.
They also vowed to return the stolen land to the ejidos by
expropriating, with payment, a third of the area of the haciendas;
those haciendas that refused to accept this plan would have
their lands expropriated without compensation. Zapata adopted
the slogan "Tierra y Libertad" ("Land and Liberty").

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