Killing Zapata

Emiliano Zapata, Mexican revolutionary general (1879-1919)

Emiliano Zapata, Mexican revolutionary general (1879-1919)

On the morning of April 10, 1919, Emiliano Zapata rode toward the Hacienda de Chinameca in his home state of Morelos. The general —known as “the Attila of the South,” leader of the Ejército Libertador del Sur— was there to meet with a colonel under the command of Pablo González, the carrancista general who had been pursuing Zapata for much of the year.

The colonel had lured the wily revolutionary with a promise to switch sides and join the zapatista revolution, which for almost eight long years had been demanded nothing more than “food and liberty, a happy home, and a future of independence,” as the group’s 1914 Manifesto to the Mexican People read.

“The campesino is hungry, endures misery, suffers exploitation,” the zapatistas stated in 1914, “and if he rose up in arms, it was to obtain the bread that the rich man’s greed denied him; to seize the land that the hacendado egotistically kept for himself.”

Zapata himself had been a reluctant revolutionary. Born in a rural village in Morelos,  the future hero of the Mexican Revolution first made a name for himself as a skilled  charro, the outfit of which Zapata donned till the day he died.

When Francisco Madero called for an end to the 34-year-long porfiriato in November 1910, Zapata quickly sided with Madero and his allies, hoping the revolution would lead to the kind of radical land reform the people of Mexico desperately needed. Yet Zapata soon grew disillusioned with Madero and other caudillos who called themselves revolutionaries but only seemed to be after power.

After nearly a decade of fighting that saw him traverse the length of Mexico several times on horseback, by 1919 the 39-year-old rebel longed to claim victory, implement his Plan of Ayala, and return to the peaceful hills of his ancestors. But it was not to be.

As one of his men would later write:

The rest of the people stayed under the trees, confidently resting in the shade with their carbines stacked. Having formed ranks, [the colonel’s] guard looked ready to do him the honors. Three times the bugle sounded the honor call; and as the last note died away, as the General in Chief reached the threshold of the door … at point blank, without giving him time even to draw his pistols, the soldiers who were presenting arms fired two volleys, and our unforgettable General Zapata fell never to rise again.

Remembering Zapata is how we celebrate our heritage.