War and Conflict
What does “¡Viva Zapata!” mean?
It was the cry that went up in support of the rebel general Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919), whose chief concern during the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) was the distribution of land to the people.
An advocate of Mexico’s lower classes, Zapata began revolutionary activities against the government of Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) as early as 1897. Zapata rose to prominence in helping the liberal and idealistic Francisco Madero (1873–1913) overthrow Díaz in 1911. With Madero placed in power, Zapata promptly began pressing his co-conspirator for a program to distribute the hacienda (large estate) lands to the peasants. Rebuffed by Madero that same year, Zapata drafted the agrarian Plan of Ayala and renewed the revolution. Madero’s government never achieved stability and proved to be ineffective, prompting a second overthrow in 1913: Victoriano Huerta (1854–1916) seized power from Madero, whom he had helped put into office, and in the chaos surrounding the coup, Madero was shot and killed.
But Zapata refused to support Huerta and remained a leader of the revolution, continuing his crusade for the people—who supported him with cheers of “¡Viva Zapata!,” meaning “long live Zapata!” The bitter fighting of the revolution continued and soon those who had supported the slain Madero—including Zapata and Pancho Villa (1878–1923)—threw their backing behind another revolutionary, Venustiano Carranza (1859–1920). In 1914 Carranza’s forces occupied Mexico City and forced Huerta to leave the country. No sooner had Carranza taken office than the revolutionaries began fighting among themselves. Zapata and Pancho Villa demanded dramatic reforms and together they attacked Mexico City in 1914. Five years later, and one year before the end of the revolution, Carranza’s army ambushed and assassinated Zapata in his home state of Morelos.