Emiliano Zapata was one of the main figures in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, commander of the Liberation Army of the South and still revered as a hero to this day. In his forty years of life, he became a bona fide force of nature. Born in 1879 to a family of peasants in the small town of Anenecuilco, he was privy to the horrendous treatment of the working class by the rich hacienda landowners, who were able to control much of the land due to the policies set in place by President Porfirio Diaz.
Zapata married into a moderately wealthy family and was elected the leader of his small town by the age of 30. As a kind of land reform, he insisted that the stolen land of the haciendas be redistributed to the farmers that had been enslaved to it.. This issue would become the central goal of much of his future work. By 1910, Diaz's presidency was being challenged by Francisco Madero, and Emiliano quietly supported the movement, believing that it was the best chance to implement country-wide change.
However, when Diaz was overthrown in 1911 with the help of Zapata and his army, the new president Madero reneged on his vague promises on land reform. Relations between the two men soured even further when Francisco appointed a pro-plantation governor who refused to consider Emiliano's agrarian goals. Faced with arrest and persecution, the general was forced to flee into rural Puebla.
While in hiding, Zapata formed a rebel army, whose followers called themselves 'Zapatistas'. With them, he conquered city after city in the name of land reform; however, before he could oust President Madero, a general named Victoriano Huerta staged a coup and took the presidency by force, establishing a military dictatorship in 1913. During the initial rebellion, he was in charge of the war atrocities that occurred in the South of Mexico. Emiliano's hatred prompted him to join forces with Pancho Villa's northern rebels and fellow revolutionaries Venustiano Carranza and Alvaro Obregon.
The four men formed a coalition which successfully forced Huerta from office in 1914, but their truce dissolved almost immediately afterward; Carranza and Villa loathed each other and when the former declared himself to be the new President, Zapata tried to stay out of the way, defending his Southern territories but rarely engaging in the violent disagreement. However, when Pancho was defeated in 1915, presidential attention turned southward, knowing that Emiliano had reluctantly declared allegiance to the North-based rebel.
Zapata resisted attempts on his life, under order of President Carranza (and at the hands of an unforgiving general), but was assassinated finally, in April 1919. The southern Liberation Army fell apart, their dreams of fair land reform dashed. However, Emiliano's legacy was long-lasting, as he was quickly lionized as a martyr and his campaigns for land distribution influenced the new 1917 constitution. He was a maverick, in that he allowed women to fight in his army, and he was also progressive in wanting to end the brutal poverty endured by the peasant farmers.. Today he's still remembered as a hero for the people's cause.