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Interview with the great grandson of Emiliano Zapata- the Mexican revolutionary hero (Part 2)

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By Milli Legrain

Photo credits: Emiliano Zapata Foundation

Historian Edgar Castro Zapata was one of the guests of honor at the third annual Congress of National Latino Farmers and Ranchers. In this second part of the interview he talks about the historical causes of campesino migration to the United States, the importance of farmworker unity and of preserving the memory of his great-grandfather, the hero of the Mexican revolution: Emiliano Zapata.

What, in your opinion, are the main challenges for Mexican agriculture?

We need our agricultural workers to be united. Unfortunately, in my country we inherited a 70-year-old regime which was flawed and clientelistic. All support for the countryside was directed towards the political sectors instead of farmworkers.

There are challenges to campesinos uniting in Mexico, to making rural communities realize that they are the main promoters for improving the countryside, not the partisan politics that divides and corrupts everything. 

My grandfather Don Mateo dreamt of seeing farmworkers unite through the organization of campesinos he founded in the 70s, called the National Plan de Ayala Movement. He was always asked why he went back to the Ayala Plan. He argued that the Ayala Plan in itself had not been implemented. Land was given to the peasants but what was what missing were the tools and the training to improve production.  

Unfortunately in 1992, during the presidency of Carlos Salinas, Article 27 of the Constitution was reformed and the government sold the land to the highest bidder. The communities that were in need had no choice. In the absence of government support, due to lack of unity, they had to choose between selling their Ejido [cooperative] or going into debt. And that is one of the root causes of migration. 

It is important to for us to be aware of the situation in rural communities. The current government has links with healthy organizations, but direct support to farmers is also needed. Because for over 70 years they addressed only the political sectors and the campesinos were only given crumbs.

Similar to this congress of Latino farmers here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have held agricultural congresses in the city of Cuautla, in my state in Morelos, to collect the experiences of farmers and relay their needs to government representatives. We hope National Latino Farmers and Ranchers can join us next year. Unity is really fundamental.

Tell us about your work and the foundation that keeps the memory of your great-grandfather alive. 

I worked for more than 10 years for the Institute for Veterans of the Southern Revolution, a government institution that my grandfather founded in the 80s, which was created to provide economic and social support to veterans of the revolution. He passed away in 2007. But I am continuing his work with the widows of the Zapatistas and with their children and grandchildren.

I am also working on the preservation of the historical archive of the southern revolution because some governments are insensitive to this. There is a tug-of-war with the governments established in Morelos, who display a certain disinterest in history, despite the fact that Zapata was from Morelos. The state is not aware of the importance of preserving his memory. The museums that were his home in Anenecuilco, his barracks in Tlaltizapán and the hacienda in Chinameca where he was murdered have been totally abandoned.

So we had to create the Zapata Foundation to denounce, both at home and internationally, the attempt to erase the living memory of the Mexican revolution.

Through conferences, exhibitions, book presentations of new editions on Zapatismo,  the Zapata Foundation is seeking to influence Mexican society, especially in Morelos, to highlight the need for the preservation of historic memory, in looking for the campesino families that supported Zapata so that we can access their private archives, their life stories, their photos and documents for digitization and thereby create a historical memory that can be shared.

Tell us about the foundation’s international projects and the network of Emiliano Zapata Chairs.

In 2017 the Zapata Foundation created an international network of history courses at the Autonomous University of Chapingo in the State of Mexico. Last year, we introduced the Emiliano Zapata Chair at the Universidad del Valle in Colombia, after the research of a friend of the foundation, Moroni Spencer Hernández de Olarte, revealed that a Colombian from Valle del Cauca, Julio Cuadros Caldas, had been a colonel in the Zapatista army. So in 2019, to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of General Zapata, we donated a monument to the city of Buga, in Colombia, which was the homeland of Julio Cuadros Caldas. This marked the beginning of a binational relationship between Mexico and Colombia.

Next year we will celebrate this extraordinary relationship between the caudillo of the south and the Colombian colonel while spreading historical knowledge and promoting the gastronomy and crafts from both countries.

We are also having similar talks with the university in Utah, where Mormons were known to support Zapatismo. 

The Zapata Foundation is generating historical knowledge at an international level, but also encouraging young people to study this movement that has been a little forgotten, with a fresh outlook. Young people have taught me a lot and given me a different perspective.

The truth is that the subject of Emiliano Zapata is still evolving.

Click here to read the first part of this interview.

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