What were the main achievements of Emiliano Zapatas

Tierra y Libertad - Land and Freedom

Nowadays Mexico is almost exclusively in the headlines related to the drug war. Its revolutionary traditions receive little attention, as does the fact that, alongside Brazil, Argentina and Chile, it is still one of the Latin American emerging economies. The revolutionary traditions in Mexico at the moment are only upheld by the Zapatistas. Its leader, Subcommandante Marcos, recently re-emphasized the close connection between the drug war and the interests of the Mexican power cliques and American capital.

An advocate for the landless peasants

The indigenous liberation movement, which has been active for more than a decade and a half, is named after peasant leader Emiliano Zapata, who invaded Mexico City as "Supreme Leader of the Revolutionary Movement of the South" in May 1911, 100 years ago, together with Pancho Villa from northern Mexico in bloody fighting forced President Porfirio Díaz to resign. Díaz, elected president for the first time in 1876 and the second time in 1884, relied increasingly on the Mexican latifundistas, opened the country to foreign corporations, especially the US, and established an authoritarian regime. In 1888 he put through a third term. In 1890 he forced a constitutional amendment that allowed unrestricted re-election, so that in May 1911, when the insurgents forced him to resign, he was his own successor for the seventh time.

Emiliano Zapata, originally a community leader in a village in the state of Morelos south of the capital, became a revolutionary when he led a legal battle over the common land in his village that had been appropriated by a neighboring landowner. He had to learn that under the regime of Díaz, the "Porfirat", he was unable to assert the interests of his smallholder clientele. From this he drew a consistent conclusion. He armed the peasants and led them against the Porfirat under the slogan "Tierra y Libertad" (Land and Freedom). He advocated radical land reform, distributed the land to the peons, the landless peasants, in the regions he occupied, and thus freed them from their debt bondage to the latifundistas.

Zapata and his peasants did not reap the rewards of eliminating the professional council. In the power struggle that followed the fall of Díaz, the conservative representatives of urban interests prevailed. But the Zapatistas' struggles were not in vain. The new Mexican constitution, adopted in February 1917, contained in Article 27 the provision that the state had the right to expropriate private property in order to distribute it to landless and poor peasants.

At first, however, the land reform article was only available on paper. The clashes between peasants and landlords continued in Mexico beyond the death of Zapata, who was assassinated in 1919. The writer Ret Marut, who had to flee Germany in 1919 after the failure of the Munich Soviet Republic and had lived in Mexico since 1924, described these bitter battles as B. Traven in several of his books, for example in "A General Comes from the Jungle".

It was not until 1934 that the dispute over land reform in Mexico was decided in favor of small farmers and indigenous people. The newly elected President Lázara Cárdenas took the land distribution seriously. From Gutsbesitzerland he created ejidos, agricultural units in which the indigenous people received land on the basis of common ownership with collective cultivation. As early as 1936 there were 7,000 of them, in 1940, when President Cardena's term of office ended, there were already 14,700. In total, Cardenas had 18 million hectares of land expropriated from the latifundistas and distributed to around 800,000 candidates. In no other country in Latin America was the agrarian reform carried out so comprehensively. Land reform turned half of Mexico's peasant families into landowners.

Fight against neoliberal turnaround

In the spirit of Zapata's ideas, the living conditions of the rural population improved significantly compared to the time of the Porfirats. In the young and rapidly growing profile of the Mexican film, the clashes between latifundistas and the village community were a recurring theme. Some of these films were shown in the GDR, such as B. "Rio Escondido".

Cardenas had won the elections in 1934 as a member of the National Revolutionary Party founded in 1928 (from 1946 Party of Institutionalized Revolution, PRI). Until the end of the 1980s, the PRI ensured that Cardena's land reform was not reversed. When the party swung on a neoliberal course in the 1990s and the country, as a member of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), began to dispose of its revolutionary achievements - also in the country - the Zapatista Liberation Army in southern Mexico took up the role of the social reformist ideas of Emiliano Zapata up the fight again.

In 2009 our author published a »Compact Economic History of Latin America« in Leipzig University Press.

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