Mexico marked the hundredth anniversary of the death of campesino revolutionary and folk hero Emiliano Zapata on Wednesday, April 10, with rival celebrations highlighting the growing animosity between the new government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and the Zapatista movement.
As one of the major figures of Mexico’s 1910-1920 civil war, Zapata led a southern faction that demanded greater rights and an end to the exploitation of campesinos – a broad term used to describe agricultural labourers, small-plot farmers and the rural poor. Centred around the state of Morelos, Zapata’s faction demanded the dismantling of large estates, along with land redistribution to the poor under the slogan, “tierra y libertad” (land and liberty).
In the final months of the conflict, Zapata was assassinated by government forces after being lured into an ambush at the village of Chinameca, Morelos.
A century later, Zapata’s legacy has been claimed by both the radical left-wing Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), and AMLO himself. Like Zapata, the current president hails from the south of Mexico, and has pledged to revive Mexico’s rural communities.
During a commemoration ceremony in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos state, AMLO said “remembering Zapata is remembering our history”.
“As the popular slogan says: Zapata vive; because he was incorruptible, [and] the most loyal campesino leader that defended the rights of the people, so we remember him today one hundred years after his assassination," AMLO told crowds of supporters.
During the speech, AMLO described his presidency as Mexico’s “fourth transformation” – suggesting his platform of social reforms and welfare is comparable to historic events such as the early 19th Century independence struggle against the Spanish Empire, and Mexico’s liberal reformation half a century later.
From Chiapas state, EZLN spokesperson Subcomandante Moises accused AMLO’s government of plotting a renewed offensive against Zapatista communities.
“Members of the federal army and air force are going into the mountains and appearing in the communities, saying that the war is coming and that they are only waiting for the order,” he said, continuing, “the current bad government is like its predecessors.”
“But now the justification changes: today the persecution, harassment and attacks on our communities are ‘for the good of all’ and are done under the banner of the supposed ‘fourthtransformation’.
Meanwhile at the site of Zapata’s assassination in Chinameca, the local community celebrated the centenary with a parade and festivities.
Zapatistas and their supporters likewise gathered at Chinameca.
For the Zapatistas, the day didn’t just mark the death of Zapata, but also the killing of indigenous campesino organiser Samir Flores Soberanes.
Flores was killed under unclear circumstances by unidentified assailants outside his home in the early hours of February 20, 2019. The EZLN has accused the AMLO government of failing to prevent the killing of activists such as Flores.
“We do not know who murdered Comrade Samir …[but] we know who pointed him out,” Subcomandante Moises said, alleging the activist was likely killed by “hit men” who were “anxious to please the head of the federal armed forces”.
The founder of a community radio station in Morelos state, Flores had played a key role in a wave of protests against a gas-powered thermal power station. The station is located in a drought-prone agricultural region of Morelos state, near one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes, Popocatepetl. Local activists such as Flores have warned the power plant poses a risk to scarce local water resources, and have argued the government is endangering communities by running a gas pipeline near the active volcano.
At the time of writing, Mexico’s official disaster prevention agency CENAPRED had issued a “yellow alert” for Popocatepetl, warning locals to stay clear of the volcano due to the risk of toxic gases, possible land slides and “ballistic fragments” of volcanic material.
“The communities and Samir responded [to thepower plant] with their determination to resist, something that would make Emiliano Zapata proud,” Moises said.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly, Flores supporter Servando Gaja said, “Zapata is still alive, and so is Samir.”
“[Samir Flores] was recently assassinated by for the same cause [as Zapata] – for water and life. It’s the same fight,” Gaja said.
“Of all the revolutionaries of the 20th Century, Zapata is remembered for never being corrupted or betraying the people. Samir was the same. Samir lives, and the fight continues,” activist Emilio told Green Left Weekly in Chinameca.
“This struggle is a continuation of the ideals of one hundred years ago. Many governments have passed, but we’re still here, still fighting,” Zapatista supporter Aranza said.
“This day represents our history of struggle,” Zapatista activist Efra said.
“[Today] shows that the resistance continues; it’s more than just one man, and we’ll keep fighting,” another Zapatista supporter, Alejandro, said.