San José State University
Department of Economics
& Tornado Alley
Emiliano Zapata was
the leader of a peasant rebellion in Mexico shortly after the turn of the twentieth
want to claim Zapata as their own but the historical evidence is that in no way can he be construed as
being a Marxist. He was a farmer and an entrepreneur who was driven to rebellion in
defense of propery rights and in defense against central government oppression. As head of a guerilla movement and in the course of war his ideology may
have changed or become ambiguous but his initial stance was unambiguous.
Emiliano Zapata was born in Morelos, a state to the south of Mexico City. Its major commercial industry was raising sugar cane on haciendas ( plantations ). Zapata's father was a metizo farmer who raised and sold horses. He died when Emiliano was 17 years old and Emiliano assumed responsibility for supporting his mother and siblings. The Zapata family was not at odds with the hacienda owners. The owner of one large sugar-cane hacienda was the god-father of Emiliano at his baptism. The Zapata family could be described as wealthier than average peasant farmers who engaged in business on the side. As mentioned above, Emiliano's father raised, trained and sold horses. Emiliano purchased a team of ten mules and used them to haul corn from the farms of the area to the town. Later he branched out into hauling bricks and lime for construction work. He was proud of his entrepreneurship. But Emiliano also farmed. He said,
One of the happiest days of my life is when I made five or six hundred pesos from a crop of watermelons I raised all on my own.
The problems for Morelos developed when it got a branch line of the railroad connecting Mexico City and the coastal city of Veracruz. The reduction in transportation costs that this rail line brought made sugar growing even more profitable in Morelos. The hacienda owners wanted more land and decided to take land that belonged to the powerless Indian villagers. Emiliano long remembered seeing his father cry when an hacienda owner took away an orchard that belonged to the family. He also witnessed the burning of a peasant's house who tried to protest the take-over of land by an haciendado. At that time Morelos was the third largest sugar producer in the world, surpassed only by Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Even when villagers were sent to Mexico City to hire a lawyer and established their legal title to the disputed land it did no good because the haciendados controlled the local government and that government refused to enforce the law. Emiliano joined in a protest against the confiscation of land. He was arrested and released. When he continued to join in the protest he was inducted into the army. After a few months Emiliano was discharged from the army to train one haciendado's horses.
In 1909 at the age of thirty Emiliano was elected head of his village. When he could get no action from the local officials on the return of village land illegically enclosed by an haciendado Emiliano led an armed takeover of some such land. About this time Emiliano began reading to increase his knowledge. He had a high respect for legal title to land. He also made the acquaintaince of two unemployed school teachers who began to indoctrinate him with anarchist ideology.
At the turn of the twentieth century Porfirio Díaz had ruled Mexico for decades. He finally resigned when, as an eighty year old man, he was faced with rebellions both in the north of Mexico and the region to the south of Mexico City. After the rebels led by Pascual Orozco and Franciso "Pancho" Villa captured Ciudad de Jaurez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, Emiliano Zapata's forces captured the town of Cuautla to block access to Mexico City from the south. Díaz' advisor Limantour recommended Díaz' resignation at that point. Thus Francisco Madero was strongly beholden, or at least should have been, to Zapata for the successful overthrow of Diaz.
Madero, popularly acclaimed for the demise of the Diaz regime, then made a major strategic mistake, just one of many to follow. Madero accepted the interim presidency of León de la Barra for the period of five months until the fall national election. This left the government and the army in the control of Porfiristas who had every incentive to destroy Madero and his movement. Equally inciduous was the incentives the arrangement imposed upon Madero to try to placate the Porfiristas at the expense of his supporters such as Zapata.
Madero had promised to support agrarian land reform but once Diaz was gone he backpeddled on that promise saying that political order and stability was the first priority. Zapata was unhappy with Madero's stance but tried to cooperate and comply. Madero was demanding virtually complete disarment of the Zapatistas with only his promise of the future resolution of their issues. Madero effectively was attempting to disband the armies that led to the overthrow of Díaz and placed himself at the mercy of his former enemies.
The misalignment of the various interest groups in Morelos at the time was notable. Those interest groups were the peasants, the hacienda owners, the state government officials, the Federal army officers, and the Federal government officials and bureaucrats. The peasants and hacienda owners were at odds on the issue of land reform but were united in opposition to centralist control from Mexico City versus local control. The government and army of Mexico City were centralists united against locall autonomy in the states but opposed to each other in the matter of civilian versus military control of the army. Therefore when Madero sent in the Federal army to subdue the Zapatistas it was as much of a threat to the hacienda owners of Morelos on the matter of central versus state control as the Zapatistas were on the matter of land reform. Complicating matters when the army was under the control of Porfirista officers such as Victoriano Huerta was the question of whether Mexico City was in charge of the military campaigns or whether the officers were a power unto themselves.
The historical record reads as a litany of foolish acts on the part of Madero, vicious acts on the part of Porfirista army officers and wary attempts to comply and cooperate on the part of Zapata until his patience was finally exhausted and he broke with Madero.
In May of 1911 immediately after Díaz resigned, Madero who had not yet been elected to any office sent his agent, Robles Domínguez, to order Zapata to take no action on land reform. Furhermore Madero announced that his own promise of land reform would not to implemented in its entirety, which really meant that it would not be implemented. Madero was running for office of president in the presidential election scheduled for October of 1911.
Under the Mexican system the governors of the states were appointed by the president instead of chosen by local election. Zapata traveled to the capital of Morelos, Cuernavaca (literally Cow's Horn) and telegraphed Madero for permission to appoint a provisional governor for Morelos. Madero denied Zapata that permission and accepted the appointment a governor favored by the hacienda owners. Zapata with his troops had the power to impose his will in Morelos but acquiesed to Madero's action.
In June of 1911 Zapata traveled to Mexico City to meet with Madero. Zapata's visit to the capital was a great disappointment for him. Madero wanted him to give up his goal of land reform. Zapata was outmaneuvered politically by the representatives of the hacienda owners of Morelos. Madero demanded of Zapata that he disarm all but four hundred of his soldiers. The four hundred would serve as federal police under Zapata's command. Zapata returned to Cuernavaca and reluctantly demobilized most of his troops.
Zapata requested five hundred rifles from the appointed governor of Morelos but was refused. Zapata raided the federal armoury and took the rifles. Madero backpeddled on his promise that Zapata would be the head of the federal police in Morelos. Instead Zapata was called to Mexico City in late June for another meeting with Madero. Madero now demanded that Zapata retire from political activity and Zapata complied.
With Zapata retired from the leadership of the peasants of Morelos things became chaotic. Spontaneous actions on the part of the peasants were becoming more of a threat to the hacienda owners than Zapata was. Some hacienda owners and members of the local government began to solicit Zapata to re-assume leadership.
On top of the inept political bungling of Madero from Mexico City, Morelos had to contend with federal military commanders trying to impose their solutions to the problems of the state. In particular Victoriano Huerta was sent into Morelos to impose order. Huerta favored an opponent of Madero in the October election and was intent upon demonstrating the virtues of a strong policy for political order in Morelos. Huerta declared martial law in the state. Even the hacienda owners protested Huerta's actions.
When Madero traveled to Morelos to meet with Zapata. The meeting went better than the previous ones and Madero issued public statements praising Zapata. But now when Madero, not yet elected as president, issued orders to the military commanders they were ignored. At this point it was difficult for Zapata to distinguish between betrayal by Madero and Madero being ignored by the military commanders. Madero abandoned the political powder keg of Morelos and went off to campaign in the Yucatan. Zapata's brother, Eufemio, at this time asserted that they should shoot "that little dwarf, Madero."
With federal and state military units executing former Zapatistas throughout the state, Emiliano Zapata reached the end of his patience. He once again was driven to take up arms. It was not so much a rebellion he led as an organized self defense against renegade military commanders of the government. Zapata started with 300 followers but that quickly rose to 1500 as he campaigned through Morelos and the surrounding states.
Madero handly won the October election but he had forever lost the support and respect of Zapata and his followers.
In November Madero made another of his political blunders. He issued a strongly worded public statement demanding Zapata's surrender but gave his representive, Robles Domíguez, a more concilatory statement to be delivered verbally to Zapata. But the military commander in Cuernavaca would not let Domíguez go into Morelos to deliver the private message to Zapata. Zapata knew only the harsh public statement and saw military preparations being made in Cuernavaca. Zapata sent his own message to Madero
You can begin counting the days, because in a month I will be in Mexico City with twenty thousand men and I will have the pleasure of [...] hanging you from the tallest tree in the forest.
Zapata went into the mountains. There he issued his Plan of Ayala in which he called for the restoring of all lands the hacienda owners had siezed in the recent past from the village communities. Zapata now went beyond restoring land that the hacienda owners had recently expropriated and called for the transfer of one third of the land of the largest haciendas to the peasants.
The war between the Zapatistas and the government military spread and moved toward the typical condition of guerilla warfare; i.e., the government troops controlled the cities and the guerillas controlled the countryside.
Meanwhile political developments outside of the south were beginning to take precedence over events in the south. Pascual Orozco raised a rebellion in the north. It was put down by Huerta with the assistance of Pancho Villa. When Orozco was defeated Huerta tried to execute Villa. Villa was saved only by the intervention of Madero's brother Gustavo. In Veracruz, the nephew of Porfirio Díaz, Félix Díaz, along with Bernardo Reyes tried to start a rebellion. They were arrested and brought to Mexico City. In prison they managed to organize a rebellion. General Manuel Mondragón used his 700 troops to attack the prison to free Díaz and Reyes. The battle lasted ten days and is known to history as La Decenia Trágica, the tragic ten days. With Reyes and Díaz free the battle for Mexico City continued. General Huerta arrived in the city and Madero foolishly turned over command of the government troops to him. Shortly thereafter Huerta made an agreement with the rebels and took Madero and the vice president, Pino Suárez, prisoner. Huerta forced the resignation of Madero and then Huerta assumed the presidency. Subsequently Madero and Suárez were executed.
Revolutionaries such as Emiliano Zapata who were in revolt against Madero remained in revolt against Huerta. In the north, three rebel groups formed a coalition: Pancho Villa in Chihuahua, Venustiano Carranza in Coahuila and Álvaro Obregón in Sonora. Huerta sent troops into the north and carried out assassinations but was unable to suppress the rebels. The government of Woodrow Wilson in the U.S. did not recognize the usurpation of power by Huerta and provided aid to the northern coalition of rebels. In 1914 after an incident in Veracruz, Woodrow Wilson ordered the American occupation of the city. The subsequent protests led to the resignation of Huerta on July 8, 1914.
Although Huerta was driven from power more by his inability to counter the American occupation of Veracruz than the military operations of the rebels, once Huera left the effective power was in the hand of the organized resistance. But the resistances were not unified. Once their common enemy of Huerta was gone, their differences became all important.
In an attempt to achieve some unification Carranza called a convention of rebel leaders in Aguascalientes (hot springs). Carranza of Coahuila and Obregón of Sonora represented political revolutionaries whereas Villa of Chihuahua and Zapata of Morelos were more radically social revolutionaries. Carranza's convention did not have the intended effect. The convention fell under the sway of the social revolutionaries who chose Eulalia Gutiérrez for provisional president of Mexico. Gutiérrez went to Mexico City to take power. Carranza and Obregón opted to establish an alternate government in Veracruz. Gutiérrez did not last long in Mexico City. He relocated to Neuvo Léon, whereupon Obregón took his place in Mexico City. There were two more governments for Mexico; that of the Zapatistas in the south and Villa in Guanjuato. But it was Carranza who made the shrewder choice of location. In Veracruz Carranza fell heir to the munitions of the American occupying force. These munitions gave him a advantage over the other contenders and he emerged victorious and was recognized as the legitimate president of Mexico by the United States.
Carranza presented a proposed constitution based upon the constitution of 1857 but going farther in the direction of radical social institutions. After the formal acceptance of this constitution of 1917 Carranza ran for the office of the president and won.
In office Venustiano Carranza was much more conservative than would be expected from his support of the constitution of 1917 and its radical provisions. In particular, President Carranza not only did not choose to carry out the land redistribution provisions of the constitution but even returned land that had been confiscated during the civil war period. This back pedaling on the issue of land reform and redistribution put him at odds with Emiliano Zapata and his supporters.
Zapata's forces in Morelos were defying the Carranza government in Mexico City. Carranza sent General Pablo Gonzalez to punish and subdue Zapata. Gonzalez and his subordinate Colonel Jésus Guajardo hatched a Satanic plot to assassinate Zapata.
Colonel Guajardo communicated to Zapata that he and his eight hundred men wanted to join Zapata's forces. Zapata was naturally doubtful. To prove his sincerity Zapata required that Guajardo's force capture a town held by Carranzistas. Guajardo's Carranzistas then fought and defeated the other Carranzistas. Guajardo's forces were victorious and to make their conversion more convincing they executed all of the Carranzista prisoners they captured. What makes the episode murkier is that the Carranzistas who were executed were former Zapatistas who changed sides. Zapata in fact wanted them executed as traitors to his cause. Nevertheless, Zapata could not believe anyone could execute their own kind so he accepted Colonel Guajardo invitation to meet with him. Guajardo gave Zapata two very fine horses as presents. Zapata appreciated fine horses. His father had raised and trained horses. Zapata himself had also as a younger man trained horses. He was a very fine horseman. After these false gestures of friendship by Guajardo, Zapata agreed to come dine with him at the hacienda of San Juan Chinameca.
Zapata came to the hacienda with only ten soldiers. Guajardo's troops were positioned as if to give Zapata a military salute. As Zapata and his group entered the hacienda compound the band played the "Honor March." Guajardo's troops gave a military salute twice before Zapata and his group entered the hacienda courtyard. As Zapata entered the hacienda gates the order to present arms was given again. Guajardo's troops instead of firing a military salute all shot Zapata in the chest. Emiliano Zapata was one of the world's truly authentic heroes and only forty years old. April 10th is the anniversary of the assassination of
President Carranza increased Colonel Guajardo's rank to brigadier general and granted him fifty thousand pesos.
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