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 D’az 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, D’az 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").
In the course of his campaigns, Zapata distributed lands taken from the haciendas, which he frequently burned without compensation. He often ordered executions and expropriations, and his forces did not always abide by the laws of war. But underneath his picturesque appearance--drooping moustache, cold eyes, big sombrero--was a passionate man with simple ideals that he tried to put into practice. The Zapatistas avoided battle by adopting guerrilla tactics. They farmed their land with rifles on their shoulders, went when called to fight, and returned to their plows at the end of a battle or skirmish. Sometimes Zapata assembled thousands of men; he paid them by imposing taxes on the provincial cities and extorting from the rich. Their arms were captured from federal troops.
When General Victoriano Huerta deposed and assassinated Madero in February 1913, Zapata and his men arrived at the outskirts of Mexico City and rejected Huerta's offer to unite with him. This prevented Huerta from sending all his troops against the guerrillas of the north, who, under the direction of a moderate politician, Venustiano Carranza, had organized the Constitutionalist Army to defeat the new dictator. Huerta was forced to abandon the country in July 1914.
Zapata knew that Carranza's Constitutionalists feared him. He attracted some intellectuals from Mexico City, among them Antonio D’az Soto y Gama, who became his theorist and later established an agrarian party. When Huerta fell, Zapata invited the Constitutionalists to accept his Plan of Ayala and warned them that he would continue fighting independently until the plan was put to practical use.
In October 1914 Carranza called an assembly of all the revolutionary forces. Pancho Villa, who commanded the most important part of the army of the north, refused to attend the meeting because he considered Mexico City as enemy ground. The assembly was moved to Aguascalientes, where both the Villistas and the Zapatistas attended. These two groups constituted a majority, and the convention agreed to appoint General Eulalio Gutierrez as provisional president. Carranza rejected this decision and marched with his government to Veracruz.
War broke out between the moderates (Carrancistas) and the revolutionaries (Conventionists). On August 24, Zapata ordered his army (now called the Liberation Army of the South and numbering 25,000 men) to occupy Mexico City. The people of the capital watched in astonishment as the peasants went from door to door humbly asking for food and drink, instead of assaulting palaces and violating women.
Two weeks later, Zapata and Villa met on the outskirts of the capital and then visited the National Palace. The two leaders promised to fight together until they put a civilian president in the palace, and Villa accepted the Plan of Ayala.
Zapata created agrarian commissions to distribute the land; he spent much time supervising their work to be sure they showed no favoritism and that the landowners did not corrupt its members. He established a Rural Loan Bank, the country's first agricultural credit organization; he also tried to reorganize the sugar industry of Morelos into cooperatives. In April 1915 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's personal representative in Mexico met with Zapata; Zapata asked that Wilson receive his delegation, but Wilson had recognized the Carranza government (the convention's government under Guti»rrez had dispersed).
Meanwhile, the war continued. Zapata occupied the city of Puebla and won various battles, advised by some professional soldiers who had joined his side. In 1917 Carranza's generals defeated Villa and isolated Zapata. Carranza then called together a constitutional convention but did not invite Zapata; the convention approved and passed a constitution and elected Carranza as president of the republic.
A new U.S. envoy, William Gates, visited Zapata and then published a series of articles in the United States; he contrasted the order of the Zapata-controlled zone with the chaos of the constitutional zone and said that "the true social revolution can be found among the Zapatistas." When these articles were read to Zapata, he said, "Now I can die in peace. Finally they have done us justice."
Soon afterward General Pablo Gonzalez, who directed the government operations against Zapata, had Colonel Jesus Guajardo pretend to want to join the agrarians and contrive a secret meeting with Zapata at the hacienda of Chinameca in Morelos.
There, Zapata was ambushed and shot to death by Carrancista soldiers. His body was carried to Cuautla and buried there.(V.Al.)
April 10 1919 Emiliano Zapata Murdered
Little star in the night
that rides the sky like a witch
where is our chief Zapata
who was the scourge of the rich?
Little flower of the fields
and valleys of Morelos,
if they ask for Zapata,
say he's gone to try on halos.
Little bubbling brook,
what did that carnation say to you?
It says our chief didn't die.
that Zapata's on his way to you.
In 1909 there came a humble man from Morelos, in the south of Mexico, to declare the grievances of his fellow peasants. This man was named Emiliano Zapata. His powerful, direct, yet dreamy gaze affected all who saw him.
(The following occurred over 80 years ago, but it says exactly what is happening today in Mexico.)
"The old bureaucracy remained, the haciendas were untouched, the peasants did not recover their lands, and the army was there, ready to repress them if they tried. Peasant groups began to invade rural townships. Street battles between trade unions and police occurred. As instability grew, so did anxiety in the United States. Business was fearful, and finally, the streets of Mexico City became a battleground. The tiger was out of control."
The movement started by Zapata was a locally based revolt. Its purpose was to restore village rights to lands, forests, and waters. It favored a decentralized, self-ruling, communitarian democracy, inspired by shared traditions, a continuation of the oldest peasant values.
Although Zapata occupied Mexico City, along with Pancho Villa, he was not impressed with the big city. He once said: "The city is full of sidewalks and I keep falling off of them". His roots were not there, but deep in the countryside. Back there he distributed lands, established schools, and proposed an alternative model for development. From 1914-1915 Emiliano Zapata and the people of Morelos ruled themselves without central intervention, creating one of the most viable societies ever seen in Latin America. Lands were distributed as communal or individual property, according to the choice of each village. Agriculture was restored and even increased. Based on this, a politics of confidence arose. Zapata never organized a state police; law enforcement, such as it was, remained the province of the village councils.
The campesinos of Morelos achieved the modest, profound dream for which they had fought so hard. They had shown that a rural culture could escape its presumed fate and achieve a humane and functional economic organization on a local basis. They had proven that Mexicans 'could' rule themselves democratically. Unfortunately this vision cut across the grain of national design. This epic story had suddenly become a tragedy.
Only Zapata remained, elected by his people to fight on under the banner "Tierra y Libertad", land and liberty. The uncompromising Zapata, who never lowered his flag or his guard, had insisted on strict compliance with the demand for land and freedom.
The man who assasinated Zapata, Colonel Guajardo, was promoted to General and given a reward of 52,000 pesos for his act, instead of being tried and convicted. After being shot, Zapata was loaded onto a mule and taken to Cuautla, where he was dumped on the street. To prove that he was really dead, flashlights were shown on his face and photographs taken. This didn't destroy the myth of his death, because Zapata could not and would not die! Like Commandante Marcos, he was too smart to be killed in an ambush.
Hadn't Zapata's white horse been seen on top of the mountain? Every single person in the valley of Morelos still believes to this day that Zapata is still alive. Perhaps they are right.
The real story of Zapata
"Many stories ago, in the time of the first gods, the ones who made the world there were two gods who were Ik'al and Votan. Two were one single one. When one turns the other could be seen, when the other turns the one could be seen. They were opposites. One was like the light, like a May morning in the river. The other was dark, like a night of cold in a cave. They were the same. One was two, because one made the other. But they didn't walk they were always stationary these two gods who were one. 'So what do we do?'. 'Life is sad like this', they lamented the two who were one. 'The night won't go' said Ik'al. 'The day won't go' said Votan. 'Let's walk' said the one who were two. 'How?' said the other. 'Where?' said the one. When they did this they saw they moved a little bit. First by asking why, and then by asking where. Happy was the one who was two. Then both of them decided to move and they couldn't. 'How do we do it then?' One would move from the other and then the other would move. So they agreed that in order to move they had to do so separately. And no one could remember who moved first, they were just happy that they moved and said 'What does it matter who is first as long as we move?'. The two gods who were the same one said and they laughed and agreed to have a dance, and they danced, one little step behind the other. Then they tired of all the dancing and asked what else they could do and saw that the first question was "how to move" and brought the response of "together but separately and in agreement." They didn't care much that it was so. They were so happy they were moving until they came to two roads: one was very short and one could see the end of it. They were so happy they could move that they decided to choose the long road which then brought them to another question. 'Where did the road go?". It took them a long time, but the two who were one finally decided that they would never know where that long road took them unless they moved. So they said to one another 'Let's walk it then" And they began to walk first one and then the other. They found it was taking them a long time and asked "how will we walk for such a long time?' Ik'al declared he did not know how to walk by day and Votan declared that by night he was afraid. So they cried for a long time, then finally agreed that Ik'al would walk by night and Votan by day. Since then the gods walk with questions and they never stop, they never arrive and they never leave. So that is how the true men and women learned that questions serve to learn how to walk, and not to stand still. Since then true men and women walk by asking, to arrive they say good-bye and to leave they say hello. They are never still."
"That Zapata appeared here in the mountains. He wasn't born, they say. He just appeared just like that. They say he is Ik'al and Votan who came all the way over here in their long journey, and so as not to frighten good people, they became one. Because after being together for so long Ik'al and Votan learned they were the same and could become Zapata. And Zapata said he had finally learned where the long road went and that at times it would be light and and times darkness but that it was the same, Votan Zapata, and Ik'al Zapata, the black Zapata and the white Zapata. They were both the same road for the true men and women."
To the people of Mexico:
To the people and governments of the world:
To the national and international press:
Brothers and Sisters:
The Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee-General Command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army addresses you to speak its word.
In these moments, tens of thousands of men, women, children and old people, Indigenous Mexicans all of them, are meeting on hundreds of ejidos, ranches, and communities of the Mexican countryside. Our hands also reach the heart of asphalt. Together with these people, we are united in front of a tri-color flag, in whose center there is the image of an eagle devouring a serpent. We are united by our shared misery, by the collective oblivion into which we were relocated 501 years ago, by the useless death that we suffer from, by our lack of faces, by having our names stripped from us, by wagering our life and death on an unknown future. Together with all these people, we are brought together by a collective desire in front of this flag: to change, once and for all, this sky and soil, which is now oppressed. To do this, we, the nameless and the faceless, the self-called "professionals in hope," the most mortal of all "transgressors of injustice," those of us who are mountains, those who walk in the night, those who are without voice in the palaces, who are the foreigners in their own land, who are eternally dying, who are the dispossessed of history, who are without a country and without a tomorrow, those of the tender fury, those of the unmasked truth, those of the long night of disdain, those men and women of truth... The smallest... The best... We must open again the door of your filial heart that you can receive our words.
We must speak truth from our mouths; we must put our heart in our hands. Brothers and sisters, we want you to know who is behind us, who directs us, who walks in our feet, who dominates our heart, who rides in our words, who lives in our dead.
We want you to know the truth, brothers and sisters, and it is like this:
From the very beginning of that long night in which we died, according to our most ancient grandparents, there was someone who collected our pain and our oblivion. There was a man who, his words coming from far away, came to our mountain and spoke with the language of the true men and women. His walk was, and was not, of these lands. In the mouths of our dead, in the voice of the wise elders, his words walked towards our heart. There were, and still are, brothers and sisters, those who are and are not the seed of this soil, who came to the mountain, dying, to live again, brother and sisters. Those who lived lived by his heart dying from this walk, his own but foreign, when he made his house in the mountain of the nighttime roof. His name was and is of many things appointed. His tender word waits and walks in our pain. He is, and is not, of these lands: Vota'n Zapata, guardian and heart of the people.
Vota'n Zapata, light from afar, came and was born here in our land. Vota'n Zapata, the appointed name again, always among our people. Vota'n Zapata, timid fire who lived 501 years in our death. Vota'n Zapata, name that changes, faceless man, tender light that gives us shelter. Coming, Vota'n Zapata came. Death was always with us. Dying, hope died. Coming, came Vota'n Zapata. Name without name, Vota'n Zapata watched in Miguel, walked in Jose' Mari'a, was Vincente, was named in Benito, flew in a bird, mounted in Emiliano, shouted in Francisco, visited Pedro. Dying, he lived, named without name, in our land. Name without name, living, came Vota'n Zapata to our land. Speaking, his word fell into our mouths. Coming, he is. Vota'n Zapata, guardian and heart of the people.
He is and is not all in us... He is underway... Vota'n Zapata, guardian and heart of the mountain... Us... Vota'n, guardian and heart of the people. He is one and many. None and all. Living, he comes. Vota'n Zapata, guardian and heart of the people.
This is the truth, brothers and sisters. You should know it. He will never die again in our life, and in our death he lives now and forever. Vota'n, guardian and heart of the people. Without name he is named, face without face, all and none, one and many, living dead. Vota'n, guardian and heart of the people. Tapacamino bird, always in front of us. Nothing walks behind us. Vota'n, guardian and heart of the people.
He took a name in our existence without name. He took the face of those without faces. He is the sky in the mountains. Vota'n Guardian and heart of the people. And in our unnameable, faceless path, he took a name in us: Zapatista National Liberation Army.
With this new name, the nameless are named. With this flag gagging our faces, all of us have faces again. With this name, the unnameable is named: Vota'n Zapata, guardian and heart of the people.
The Zapatista National Liberation Army. Tender Fury that is armed. An unnameable name. Unjust peace is transformed into war. Death that is born. Anguish made into hope. Pain cries. Quiet shout. Our own present for an unknown future. Everything for everyone, nothing for us. The unnamed, us, the always dead. Us, foolish dignity, forgotten corner of our country. Us, Zapatista National Liberation Army. Us, black and red flag beneath the tri-color eagle. Us, the red star finally in our sky, never the only star, but one more, the smallest. Us, only a look and a voice. Us, Zapatista National Liberation Army. Us, Vota'n, guardian and heart of the people.
This is the truth brothers and sisters. This is where we come from. This is where we are going. Living, he comes. Dying, death lives. Vota'n Zapata, father and mother, brother and sister, son and daughter, large and small, us, we are coming...
Receive our truth with a dancing heart. Zapata lives, for now and forever, in these lands.
Greetings, fellow Mexicans!
Greetings, campesinos of this country!
Greetings, Indigenous people of all countries!
Greetings, Zapatista combatants!
Zapata, living he comes!
Dying, he lives!
The revolution continues!!
Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Compiled by: Glenn Welker
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