Emiliano Zapata led the Zapatistas, a group of poor peasants fighting for their agricultural land during the Mexican Revolution. They rebelled against Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorship and fought for communal land rights for indigenous peoples. After Zapata’s assassination in 1919, the Zapatistas disbanded.
During the Mexican Revolution, poor peasants from the south began to unite under the command of Emiliano Zapata. Their goal was to ensure that their agricultural land was not taken from them, as land was their only means of income and livelihood. Formed in 1910 in the southern state of Morela, Mexico, Zapata’s band of mostly poor peasants became known as the Zapatistas and fought until Zapata’s assassination in 1919. The Zapatistas slowly disbanded after that.
When Porfirio Diaz took over as president of Mexico, succeeding Benito Juarez, he became the dictator he had spent most of his political career warning people about. He decreed that farmers could not reclaim their land without legal title, thus leaving countless farmers helpless and frustrated as their land was taken from them. Diaz’s enemies, including Pancho Villa and Zapata, began to rebel against Diaz, escalating the revolution.
Officially known as the Liberation Army of the South, or Ejército Libertador del Sur, the Zapatistas fought for communal land rights for Mexico’s indigenous peoples. As European powers moved into Mexico under Diaz’s control, much of the land was taken by the wealthy elite, leaving less and less farmland for Mexicans. The Zapatistas focused their focus on redistributing these agricultural lands to the indigenous people, thereby igniting a conflict with the ruling European landowners.
When Francisco Madero ran for president against Diaz, he was thrown in jail but eventually escaped. He promised agrarian reform and thus found the support of the Zapatistas. Madero eventually ousted Diaz, but he proved to be a weak president. Zapata parted ways with him and the Zapatistas continued their struggle to regain their lands.
The Zapatistas were loosely organized and nearly all decisions were left to Zapata, although smaller units were commanded by jefes, or chiefs. Since most Zapatistas were peasants, many would fight for a short time, then return home to work on their farms. Because Zapata was the sole leader and figurehead of the Zapatistas, the force fell apart after his death in 1919. They had fought for their land over the course of four different presidencies and nearly a decade of fighting.