The Mexican Revolution

In the late nineteenth century haciendas extended their power by using new technology, irrigation systems, and foreign capital to produce cash crops for export.  These crops included cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, cacao, and vanilla.  These practices drove the peasant off the land.


Francisco Madero

Francisco Madero

In 1910, Mexico was a nation dominated by haciendas, large plantations worked by peasants and sharecroppers.  These laborers were usually in debt to the hacienda owner who lived a comfortable life from the profits produced by cheap labor.  In Morelos, for example, the ownership of the land was so concentrated in the hands of a few people that thirty haciendas controlled almost all of the cultivated land there.

Sugar production was strong, based on export and maximizing profits.  The sugar plantations and other haciendas were hungry for more land and so ate up the small plots worked by peasant farmers.  The political life of the nation was controlled by the elite sectors of the military, wealthy merchants, and the hacienda owners.

Porfirio Diaz, aligned with these wealthy elites, had been president of Mexico since 1884.  In 1910, Francisco Madero, son of a wealthy hacendado, began the revolution that in a few months toppled Diaz from power.  Joining Madero were Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North and Emiliano Zapata in the South.

The Zapatistas, as the people who followed Zapata were called, at first were called, at first were very sympathetic to Madero because he talked of a land reform plan that would return some land to the peasants.  Even though Zapata won a crucial victory in the South, once Madero came to power in 1911 he wanted Zapata to disband his troops.  Madero also refused to implement any of the land reform that he had promised.  The agrarian reform was such a central part of the Zapatistas’ struggle that they broke with Madero and fought against him in the name of the true revolution.

The Plan of Ayala 

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Depiction of the Zapatistas by Diego Riveria

That same year, the Zapatistas drew up their own land reform proposal called the Plan of Ayala.  The plan called for the restoration of land taken from the peasant; one-third of the lands of the haciendas would become ejidos, the traditional communal lands of the indigenous; and all those owners and politicians who opposed this redistribution would have their land taken without compensation.  The plan also authorized the people to take the land immediately when possible.  That plan would be their banner for the remainder of the revolution.

The Mexican Revolution

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