Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let's Go Back - Who is Emiliano Zapata?

The Zapatistas got the name from the 1910 leader of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. He directly revolted against the ruler of the time, Proferio Diaz. Emiliano Zapata grew up in the small town of Anenecuilco, in the state of Morelos, Mexico, where his family raised cattle, and like their neighbors “they too lacked their own crop land and had to rent an unirrigated [sic] plot…[yet] the Zapata’s had their own house and were better off than [others].”[1] Zapata grew up in a placid and calm town; by the age of twenty he was about to take over as the head of his household after his older brother, Eufemino, went off and started his own family and his father died. At the age of thirty, Zapata took his first step in becoming a political activist by signing a petition, stating the living conditions of the people verses the landowners, along with 32 other men of his village. The petition was sent to Proferio Diaz, in support of his rival (or the man who would be running against him in the upcoming election), Patricio Leyva, as governor of the state of Morales. While it turned out that Leyva was only using the people as his footstool in order to gain control, he still promised many things to the masses in the small villages that they did not end up getting. This being one of Zapata’s first encounters with the government of Mexico and the way the politicians were, did not leave a good impression on the man.
In 1910, Emiliano was elected as the leader of his small town of Anencuilco. His first occupation was of the land that had been rented to his village by the neighboring hospital. Having seen some of the landowners set fire to part of a village because the villagers had not been able to pay their rent, it did not take much more convincing to get people to go along with him. After having to “cut through a bureaucratic red tape, [they were] repeatedly rebuffed by the hacendado[2] and state officials…[Zapata and his followers] began to farm [the land they had gained] with their rifles ready.”[3] Wile they were farming, a message concerning the occupation was sent to president Proferio Diaz, who ended up giving them the rights to the land. Even with this grant, there was the issue of Article 3, which stated that the government would take back the “immorally acquired” land and return it to the “original owners.”[4] While meeting with other leaders of nearby villages in March of 1911, they all “decided to join the Madero Rebellion” against the government and its injustice[5]. When the government officers shot the leader of the revolutionary movement of the south, Torres Burgos, Zapata took over and became “Supreme Chief of the Revolutionary Movement of the South.”[6] This shooting gave the people of the south another reason to rebel, Zapata gathered up the able people of the surrounding villages and the revolution began.
Even though Zapata lived almost one hundred years ago, his legacy still lives on in the hearts of those in southern Mexico, and it is easy for a person to understand why a revolution like the one in 1910 was just as important as the one that is going on today in Mexico. While the current revolution does not take place in the state of Morales, Chiapas is a state in the same shape Morales used to be. Even though Chiapas has one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, it is also “a place where violence and protected crime thrive.”[8] It is unclear whether this crime originates from the government or the Zapatistas themselves for this violence, even though the source may be biased, there is no region that is without some violence.

Paul Hart, Bitter Harvest: The Social Transformation of Morales, Mexico and the Origin of the Zapatista Revolution, 1840-1910 (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 2005), 187-188.

[2] People who run a housing development (or a plot of land)
[3] Hart 193-194.
[4-6] Hart 194.
[7-8] Subcomandante Marcos, "Prologue," in Our Word is Out Weapon, xxi (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001).

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