Assassination of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata Part 1

About the assassination of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, biography and history of his heroics.

ASSASSINATIONS

The Victim: EMILIANO ZAPATA, peasant leader and champion of agrarian reform in the Mexican Revolution. From his simple beginnings as a sharecropper and horse trainer, he rose to lead an army of southern farmers in 1910 and helped overthrow dictator Porfirio Diaz. Convinced later that the ideals of this revolution had been betrayed, he continued to fight all dictators and presidents until his death in 1919.

Zapata's strength lay in his natural leadership and his strong identification with the poor. "Men of the South," he said when rallying his ragtag followers, "it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." Zapata's high cheekbones, dark eyes, and swarthy complexion-characteristics of a Morelos Indian-were set off by his thin black hair and a mandarin mustache. His uniform was theatrical, but with reason. He dressed in black and wore an enormous sombrero, jacket, and tight charro pants studded with silver buttons. It was the costume of a village chief dressed in his festive best. Instead of setting himself apart by wearing military khakis, he chose a "uniform" that identified him with the people-but put him in a position of subtle authority. As his influence spread, Zapata was careful to keep the roots of his revolution planted in the countryside.

His struggle combined guerrilla tactics with a reputation for honesty and fairness, making him a champion of the peasants. Land taken from the haciendas of the rich was distributed to his army of the poor. While cruel to his enemies, Zapata tried to avoid the bloody excesses that turned the population against most military forces of that time. When his Zapatistas occupied Mexico City, for instance, they did so without the widespread violence and looting residents had come to expect. As British historian Ronald Atkin described their conduct: "But the Army of the South made no attempt to loot stores or homes, even though their meager rations were soon exhausted. Instead they knocked on doors, asking humbly for a little food, or approached a passerby to beg a peso."

By 1915 Zapata, then 31 years old, had grown tired of the fighting. For him the revolution had always had a nonmilitary goal-the return of the Indians' land, which had been appropriated by plantation owners. As haciendas fell, the Zapatistas tore down their fences and redistributed the property among the poor. Outlining his philosophy in the Plan of Ayala, Zapata advocated seizure of all foreign-owned land, along with that taken from the Indians, and confiscation of all property owned by hacendados who opposed the revolution.

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