Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919) was a village leader, farmer and horseman who became an important leader in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). He was instrumental in bringing down the corrupt dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in 1911 and joined forces with other revolutionary generals to defeat Victoriano Huerta in 1914. Zapata commanded an imposing army, but he rarely sallied forth, preferring to stay on his home turf of Morelos.
Zapata was idealistic and his insistence on land reform became one of the pillars of the Revolution. He was assassinated in 1919.
Zapata’s supporters were stunned by his sudden death and many refused to believe it, preferring to think he had gotten away, perhaps by sending a double in his place. Without him, however, the rebellion in the south soon fizzled. In the short run, Zapata’s death put an end to his ideals of land reform and fair treatment for Mexico’s poor farmers.
In the long run, however, he has done more for his ideals in death than he did in life. Like many charismatic idealists, Zapata became a martyr after his treacherous murder. Even though Mexico still has not implemented the sort of land reform he wanted, he is remembered as a visionary who fought for his countrymen.
In early 1994, a group of armed guerrillas attacked several towns in southern Mexico. The rebels call themselves the EZLN, or Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (National Zapatista Liberation Army). They chose the name, they say, because even though the Revolution “triumphed,” Zapata’s vision had not yet come to pass. This was a major slap in the face to the ruling PRI party, which traces its roots to the Revolution and supposedly is the guardian of the Revolution’s ideals. The EZLN, after making its initial statement with weapons and violence, almost immediately switched to modern battlefields of the internet and world media. These cyber-guerrillas picked up where Zapata left off seventy-five years before: the Tiger of Morelos would have approved.
Source: McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.