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Emelio Zapata

Photo of Emiliano Zapata Salazar (1879-1919), leader of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)

Library of Congress

Bain News Service, Publisher. Emelio Zapata. , 1911. Photograph.

This photograph was taken of Emiliano Zapata in 1911. Zapata always dressed in the charro style, in clothing worn by prosperous rural landowners, but his heart was with the poor campesinos who worked on the haciendas. He not only organized and led the Liberation Army of the South, a powerful fighting force in Morelos and other southern states, but he also carried out the Plan de Ayala land reform in Morelos and other areas he controlled. Campesinos attacked large landowners and seized their lands, some of which had belonged to nearby pueblos, or Indian and mestizo communities. Zapata was a charismatic leader who could inspire people greatly. One famous quote is Es mejor morir de pie que vivir de rodillas.” (It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.) However, he was not able to attract support from urban workers and refused to compromise his principles. Urban workers would not support Zapata’s plans. Zapata fought on but was betrayed and assassinated in 1919.

Emiliano Zapata was another larger-than-life character, eulogized and romanticized by admirers and succeeding generations. His effectiveness as a leader was limited by his inability to fight outside of his home state of Morelos and his intense focus on the local problems, which eventually left him isolated from other leaders. After nine years of war, many of his campesinos also wanted peace. In the atmosphere of the later 1910s, he was accused of socialist and communist revolution. While he did use some socialist rhetoric, his basic vision was more one of agrarian social justice at the local level, rather than larger visions of transforming society.

Emilio Zapata