Emiliano Zapata was born in the Mexican region of Morelos to a poor but independent family during the reign of President Porfirio DĂaz, who ruled the country with an iron fist. The DĂaz regime was known for greatly favoring the rich at the cost of the poor. During his rule, rich landowners took over vast tracts of land and reduced the people to a system of debt peonage. In his home state, Zapata began speaking out against the abuses and was a community leader by the time he was thirty.
"It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees."
In 1911, DĂaz was removed from office and fled the country. Mexico plunged into a brutal civil war for the next ten years, as former military generals, government officials and popular rebel leaders all raised armies to fight for control. Although he had no formal or military education, Zapata was soon named general of the EjĂ©rcito Libertador del Sur â€“ the Liberation Army of the South. Wherever the army went, it would â€śliberateâ€ť vast tracts of land from wealthy landowners and redistribute it to the poor. One of the true ideologues of the revolution, Zapata is remembered for one slogan: â€śTierra y Libertad!â€ť (â€śLand and liberty!â€ť) and his famous quote â€śIt is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.â€ť
For the next nine years, the Liberation Army of the South remained mobilized, fighting other rebel factions and government forces. Zapata was allied for a while with Venustiano Carranza, but withdrew his support after Carranza seized power. Carranza put a bounty on Zapata, and on April 9, 1919, Zapata was betrayed, ambushed and killed.
The Zapata Legacy
Zapata remains an important figure in Mexico: he is seen by many as the true voice of the Mexican Revolution. Several films have been made about him, and in 1994 a popular revolt in Southern Mexico named itself the Zapatista Army of National Liberation: they believed that Zapataâ€™s work for land and liberty had never come to fruition.
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