Childhood & Early Life
Emiliano Zapata was born as Emiliano Zapata Salazar on August 8, 1879 in Anenecuilco, Morelos, Mexico.
He was the son of a well-known ‘mestizo’ peasant named Gabriel Zapata who trained and sold horses to people. His mother was Cleofas Jertrudiz Salazar.
Emiliano had three brothers named Eufemio, Pedro, and Loreto and six sisters named Matilde, Jovita, Maria de Jesus, Celsa, Maria del la Luz and Romana.
He received rudimentary education including book-keeping from his teacher Emilio Vara.
His mother died when he was 16 years old and his father died 11 months later, after which he had to look after his family.
In 1897 he was arrested for taking part in a protest rally against the owner of the plantation that had appropriated their farmland.
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After being pardoned, Emiliano Zapata again started agitating and was promptly drafted into the Mexican Army to stop him from agitating any more.
After only six months in the Army he was discharged and sent to Porfirio Diaz’s son-in-law’s hacienda asa horse-trainer.
In 1909 the villagers ofAnenecuilcoelected him president of the village council board and he soon became involved in the agitations carried out by the local peasants and farmers against the landowners.
Once an entire village was burnt to the ground by the angry landowners because the villagers had forcibly occupied a piece of land.
Zapata continued with his struggles and sometimes he was successful in getting the land back for the villagersby using very old title deeds to petitionthe governor to help return pieces of land to their rightful owners.
Sometimes he got frustrated by the slow response of the government and forcibly occupiedpieces of land he thought fit and distributed them to the peasants and farmers.
During this period,the president of Mexico was Porfirio Diaz who had defeated a northern landowner named Francisco Madero in the 1910 presidential election. Francisco fled to the United States, declared himself asthe rightful President, returned to Mexico and laid claim to the presidency causing a clash between the two.
Seeing a great opportunity for land reforms, Zapata made a secret alliance with Francisco Madero who promised to carry out the reforms.
In 1910 Zapata became the commanding officer of the ‘Ejercito Libertadordel Sur’ or the ‘Liberation Army of the South’ and declared war against President Diaz.
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In May 1911, Zapata’ssmall army of guerillas defeated the forces of President Diaz and occupied the city of Cuautla after a gruesome six-day battle and closed the road to the capital Mexico City.
A week after being defeated by Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco at the ‘First Battle of Ciudad Juarez’, President Diaz resigned and fled to Europe after handing over power to a provisional president.Zapata and his army of 5,000 guerillas took over Cuernavaca, the capital of the state of Morelos.
Zapata went to Mexico City to force the provisional president to return the illegally occupied land to the farmers where he met the triumphant Francisco Madero.But when Zapata asked for Francisco’s help in returning the land, Madero asked him to disarm his guerillas first before the job could be done. Zapatastarted disarming his guerillas but when he found that Madero had sent the army to quell any objections to disarm, he stopped the process immediately which soured their relations by the summer of 1911.
After being rebuffed by Zapata, Madero appointed a governor in November 1911 who sided with the landowners instead ofhelping the farmers get back their land which angered Zapata further.
Many attempts were made to find an amicable solution to the problem but nothing worked and when Francisco Madero declared himself the president of Mexico, Zapata and his followers took refuge in the hills of southwest Puebla.
After the disillusionment with Madero, Zapata embarked upon a plan known as ‘Plan of Ayala’ that declared Madero as a traitor and incapable of fulfilling any of his promises given before the revolution.
This timeround Madero becameZapata’s target instead of Diaz. According to ‘Plan of Ayala’,a provisional president would be appointed until elections are carried out. The elected president would then return at least one third of the misappropriated land to their rightful owners. If any landowner refused to part with his land then it would be occupied by force if necessary. The slogan raised by Zapata was ‘Tierra y Libertad’ or ‘Land and Liberty’.
As the revolution continued, General Victoriano Huerta assassinated Francisco Madero in February 1913 and declared himself as the president of Mexico. He approached Zapata to unite the troops of both sides into one single army which was rejected by Zapata.
Huerta’s attempt to confront and defeat the ‘Constitutionalist Army’ led by Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregon in Northern Mexico was thus foiled and he was forced to flee the country in July 1914 after being defeated by his four opponents.
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After Huerta left, Zapata invited Carranza’s ‘Constitutionalists’ to accept the ‘Plan of Ayala’ with a warning that as long as it was not implemented in fullhe would remain independent.
In October 1914 Carranza asked all the leaders to come to Mexico City for a meeting. Pancho Villa refused to attend saying that Mexico City was enemy territory. The meeting was shifted to Aguascalientes where everybody including the ‘Villistas’ and ‘Zapatistas’ attended and appointed General Eulalio Gutierrez as the provisional president. This move was rejected by Carranza and he shifted the government to Veracruz.
Zapata rebuilt Morelos during 1915 by distributing hacienda land to the farmers who made the area prosperous by growing corn, beans and vegetables. When war broke out between the moderate ‘Carrancistas’ and the revolutionary ‘Conventionalists’, Zapata ordered his army to take over Mexico City.
Zapata and Villa met outside the capital two weeks later and agreed at the National Palace to fight together till the election of a new president. Villa accepted the ‘Plan of Ayala’ during this meeting.
Zapata set up agrarian commissions to take care of land distribution, formed the country’s first ‘Rural Loan Bank’, and converted the individual sugar producing plantations into cooperatives.
In April 1915 the U.S. president Woodrow Wilson sent his representative to meet Zapata. When Zapata asked Wilson to send a delegation in return, Woodrow refused as he had already recognized Carranza’s government.
The war went on with Zapata winning many battles and occupying the city of Puebla. He was finally isolated when Carranza’s army defeated Villa in 1917. Carranza called for a constitutional convention without inviting Zapata where he was elected as the president of Mexico.
During this time William Gates, the new U.S. envoy to Mexico met Zapata, went back to the U.S. and published a series of articles praising the agrarian reforms initiated by Zapata which brought him immense satisfaction and peace.
Sometime later General Pablo Gonzalez sent Colonel Jesus Guajardo to Zapata’s camp disguised as a revolutionary and set up a secret meeting with Zapata at a Chinameca hacienda in Morelos. When he came to the meeting on April 10, 1919, Zapata was ambushed and killed by ‘Carrancista’ soldiers and his body was displayed to the public for 24 hours and buried in Cuautla.
Personal Life & Legacy
Emiliano Zapata married Josefa Espejo in 1911 and had a daughter named Paulina Ana Maria.
He also had six sons Mateo, Juan, Nicolas, Felipe Diego, and Ponciano, and four daughters Elena, Josefa, Carlota, and Margarita who were born out of wedlock.
He has influenced the history of Mexico and his life has been portrayed through movies, books, comics, clothing and music.