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Zapata Assassinated: April 10, 1919

Venustiano Carranza

Carranza was not the author of the more radical provisions of the Constitution of 1917, and he did nothing to enforce them. Indeed, it would have been difficult to deprive foreign companies of their land and mineral rights, for they would appeal to their governments for redress. Both the Church and the landowners resisted the government’s reforms. Too, even if Carranza had possessed the power to enforce the Constitution, he had not the desire.

But when Carranza did exercise power, he used it against radicals. He did nothing to redistribute lands to the peasants; he actively suppressed workers’ attempts to organize unions. He closed the House of the World Worker in Mexico City and arrested one of its most powerful leaders, Luis Morones.

Given Carranza’s violations of the new constitution, one might have expected some general to “pronounce” against him; but Mexico was exhausted by revolution; and, besides, Carranza had pledged that he would not seek re-election.

Luis Morones

But more radical elements were not quiet. In May 1918, Luis Morones, released from prison, traveled to Coahuila as a delegate to a convention that had gathered to form a labor union. This union was meant to be anything but radical; indeed, it was to function as an arm of of Carranza’s power. Morones, however, was able to wrest control of the convention and the organization it founded — the Confederación Regional Obrera Mexicana (Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers — CROM). Morones and a secret cadre of leaders, called Grupo Acción, came to control CROM. In 1919, Grupo Acción organized the Mexican Labor Party to support Alvaro Obregón for president.

Emiliano Zapata

Emiliano Zapata still lived to trouble Carranza. Though he lay waste to Morelos, General Pablo González could not capture Zapata. Unable to break Don Emiliano’s power by waging war, González resorted to treachery. Zapata received a message from one Jesús Guajuardo, a colonel in González’s army. Guajuardo claimed he was willing to desert the federal army and join his regiment to Zapata’s rebel force. Zapata was justly suspicious; but when Guajuardo captured a detachment of González’s troops and had them shot, Zapata changed his mind. Would Guajuardo have done so were he not sincere? Zapata arranged a meeting with the colonel at the hacienda of San Juan Chinameca.

A flourish of trumpets greeted Zapata as he, with ten of his followers, rode into San Juan Chinameca on April 10, 1919. Hardly had the trumpets fallen silent, however, when a barrage of gunfire cut-down Zapata and his men. Zapata died instantly. Guajuardo’s men loaded his body onto a mule and took it to Cuautla, where they dumped it in the street.

Emiliano Zapata’s corpse, displayed in Cuautla, Morelos

“Men of the South, it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees”— this had been Zapata’s call to resis­tence. Zapata was dead, but his struggle lived on. Indeed, his followers, who said that Zapata had not died at San Juan Chinameca, told that they could see him at times, mounted on his white horse, riding the sierra of Morelos. Zapata was dead, but not Zapatismo.

With Zapata gone and Villa a mere bandit annoyance in far-off Chihuahua, Carranza could now attend to consolidating his political power. He knew he could not simply repudi­ate his pledge not to run a second time for president; but he could back a candidate whom he could easily manipulate once he was in power. Since Carranza, as president, controlled the Mexican political machine (free and honest elections were still only a wistful dream), his candidate would handily win the presidency in 1920 — that is, as long as no one intervened.

Alvaro Obregón

But someone did intervene. When Carranza tried to break a railroad strike in Sonora, the governor, Adolfo de la Huerta, declared his state’s independence. In April 1920, de la Huerta and Plutarco Elías Calles, once an elementary school teacher and the former governor of Sonora, issued a plan calling for the removal of Carranza and the appointment of a provisional president until elections could be held. Marching south, the army of the north, led by Alvaro Obregón, met no opposition, for even Carranza’s closest allies had deserted him. Confronted by an overwhelming resistance, Carranza fled the capitol for Veracruz, taking with him five million pesos in gold and silver from the national treasury. When at Veracruz his train was attacked by one of his own commanders, Carranza fled north to Tampico. Carranza at last met his fate in a remote Indian village. His guide (who had promised to protect him) murdered him as he lay sleeping in a hut.

With Carranza gone, Obregón and his army entered Mexico City. De la Huerta was sworn in as provisional president and served until November, when Alvaro Obregón became president. 

The Folk Sing of Zapata's Death

A corrido, or folk song, commemorating the death of Emiliano Zapata.

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