Land and Liberty

Anyone who has been in the part of Puerto Vallarta that includes Incanto, Olas Altas, Daiquiri Dicks and Molino De Agua loves it and usually refers to it by a gringo description such as “Old Vallarta”, “Old Town” or “The Romantic Zone”. Please, let’s show some respect for one of the leaders of leaders of the Mexican Revolution, and call it by the official Mexican name for the colonia, “Emiliano Zapata.” That Mexican hero of the Revolution deserves our respect as a fighter for land and liberty.

Born in 1879 in the small town of Anenecuilco, in the state of Morelos, about 116 Kms south of Mexico City, Emiliano Zapata was one of ten children whose father was a poor horse trader. In the last half of the nineteenth century sugar was a very profitable crop and landowners were hungry for land so they stole from peasants who had occupied it for generations. In 1897, in Anenecuilco, the local hacienda owner cut off the town’s water supply and expropriated part of the common land, and this led to demonstrations by the townspeople. Zapata took part in these demonstrations and was arrested. As he grew into a young adult he continued to believe in the need for the peasants to get their ancestral lands back.

In 1909, at a time of political turbulence throughout the country, he was elected as president of the town council of Anenecuilco. By this time Porfirio Díaz had been president of Mexico for twenty-five and many poor Mexicans hated him for his support of the landowners and the aristocracy. In 1910, Zapata joined Francisco Madero’s revolutionary campaign to fight against Díaz. Cooperating with a number of other peasant leaders he formed the Liberation Army of the South and soon became its undisputed leader with over 25,000 men under his command.

Madero told him that when he, Madero, became president he would introduce land reforms that would restore ownership of hacienda-owned land to the peasants but when Diaz was turfed out and Madero did become president, in October 1911, he ignored the promises he had made to Zapata which, it turned out, was a serious mistake. A month later Zapata published the Plan of Ayala which promised to appoint a provisional president to replace Madero, until there could be legitimate elections, and pledged to buy back a third of the (stolen) land area held by the haciendas and return it to the farmers. Zapata’s slogan became “Tierra y Libertad” (“Land and Liberty”).

Madero sent his Federal Army, under General Huerta, to wipe out the Zapatista army but Zapata’s support from his local supporters was strong and he defeated Huerta. In February 1913, in a coup against Madero, Huerta grabbed the presidency and assassinated him. The next year the coalition forces in Northern Mexico led by Venustiano Carranza, Álvaro Obregón and Francisco “Pancho” Villa joined up with Emiliano Zapata’s southern army and, together, ousted Huerta.

After the revolutionaries’ victory they found that governing was hard and difficult work. Zapata and Villa broke away from Carranza, and Mexico descended into civil war. Zapata couldn’t get along with Villa and focused his energies on rebuilding society in his state of Morelos.

Carranza, who had become president in 1914 after Huerta had been kicked to the curb, built up the federal army and defeated Villa the following year. Zapata refused to accept Carranza’s authority because of his lack of action on behalf of the peasants against the landowners and initiated guerrilla warfare against Carranza’s forces for the next four years in the state of Morelos. He was killed in an ambush on 10th April 1919. He was just forty years old.

When the Mexican Constitution was issued later that year, Article 27 contained Zapata’s ideas for land reforms. He hadn’t fought and died in vain. He was a visionary with the goal of achieving political and economic freedom for the poorer people in southern Mexico and, in some measure, obtained it.

Many popular organizations take their name from Zapata, including the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the Marxist guerrilla group that emerged in the state of Chiapas in 1983 and still exists.

The colonia of Emiliano Zapata here includes the million dollar homes in Molina De Agua and the hovels rented by poor Mexicans a ten-minute walk away. Would our Mexican revolutionary be happy to have this area named after him? Whatever the answer, we should all respect him for his struggle and his concerns for his fellow men and women.

John Warren on Email
John Warren
John Warren is in charge of Publicity for the International Friendship Club (IFC). His articles describe the programs and charities that IFC supports, the sources of income of IFC and the social experiences, lectures and classes that members can enjoy.
He splits his time between Puerto Vallarta and Lethbridge, Alberta. In the winter months he writes for the IFC, this summer he’s focusing his writing on the environment.