Thunder Over Mexico - The Legacy of Emiliano Zapata

The following occurred over 80 years ago, but it says exactly what is happening today in Mexico.

In 1909 there came a humble man from Morelos, in the south of Mexico, to declare the grievances of his fellow peasants. This man was named Emiliano Zapata. His powerful, direct, yet dreamy gaze affected all who saw him.

"The old bureaucracy remained, the haciendas were untouched, the peasants did not recover their lands, and the army was there, ready to repress them if they tried. Peasant groups began to invade rural townships. Street battles between trade unions and police occurred. As instability grew, so did anxiety in the United States. Business was fearful, and finally, the streets of Mexico City became a battleground. The tiger was out of control."

The movement started by Zapata was a locally based revolt. Its purpose was to restore village rights to lands, forests, and waters. It favored a decentralized, self-ruling, communitarian democracy, inspired by shared traditions, a continuation of the oldest peasant values.

Although Zapata occupied Mexico City, along with Pancho Villa, he was not impressed with the big city. He once said: "The city is full of sidewalks and I keep falling off of them". His roots were not there, but deep in the countryside. Back there he distributed lands, established schools, and proposed an alternative model for development. From 1914-1915 Emiliano Zapata and the people of Morelos ruled themselves without central intervention, creating one of the most viable societies ever seen in Latin America. Lands were distributed as communal or individual property, according to the choice of each village. Agriculture was restored and even increased. Based on this, a politics of confidence arose. Zapata never organized a state police; law enforcement, such as it was, remained the province of the village councils.

The campesinos of Morelos achieved the modest, profound dream for which they had fought so hard. They had shown that a rural culture could escape its presumed fate and achieve a humane and functional economic organization on a local basis. They had proven that Mexicans 'could' rule themselves democratically. Unfortunately this vision cut across the grain of national design. This epic story had suddenly become a tragedy.

Only Zapata remained, elected by his people to fight on under the banner "Tierra y Libertad", land and liberty. The uncompromising Zapata, who never lowered his flag or his guard, had insisted on strict compliance with the demand for land and freedom.

The man who assasinated Zapata, Colonel Guajardo, was promoted to General and given a reward of 52,000 pesos for his act, instead of being tried and convicted. After being shot, Zapata was loaded onto a mule and taken to Cuautla, where he was dumped on the street. To prove that he was really dead, flashlights were shown on his face and photographs taken. This didn't destroy the myth of his death, because Zapata could not and would not die! Like Commandante Marcos, he was too smart to be killed in an ambush.

Hadn't Zapata's white horse been seen on top of the mountain? Every single person in the valley of Morelos still believes to this day that Zapata is still alive. Perhaps they are right.

"Zapata will continue to live as long as people believe that they have a right to their land and a right to govern themselves according to their deeply held beliefs and cultural values."

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The Zapotecs   Zapata Lives in Our Dead   The Story of the Questions   Emiliano Zapata     

Indigenous Peoples' Literature

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