Friday, April 7, 2017

The Armed Libertarian Revolution in Mexico (Part 3)

Part 3: Villa, Zapata, and the citizen-soldiers

Francisco "Pancho" Villa (center), Commander, Northern Division
From 1910 to 1919, Emiliano Zapata led the Liberation Army of the South and is responsible for Morelos’ period of autonomy until his murder under a false flag of truce.  Like Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, and also like the irregulars at Concord and Boston, the Zapatistas fought a prolonged guerrilla war with the popular support of the public throughout Morelos and in parts of Puebla and Mexico State.  Like the Green Mountain Boys in the New Hampshire land grants, like the American Sagebrush Rebellion, like the militants at the Bundy Ranch standoff and the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff, and like the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas today, the government called the original Zapatistas criminals and terrorists when they took up arms to resist eminent domain. 

Pancho Villa is a controversial figure in the Mexican Revolution.  People from Northern Mexico still revere him as a man of the people, while the descendants of his enemies still revile him as a gangster.  The truth is that he was somewhere in between the two.  Testimonies of Villista veterans and civilians testifies that the Northern Division really did often provide food and badly needed public services to the civilian population.  In this sense, the exploited population were less exploited under the revolutionaries than they were by the federal and loyalist state governments.  However, Villa did have the ability to be brutal and have people executed at the drop of a hat.  Part of the brutality known among Villa and his lieutenants comes from having been gangsters. 

Villa never particularly wanted to be a gangster, but it came out of necessity.  His career as an outlaw began in his teenage years when he had to flee his native Durango after killing the local boss.  The feudal lord was in the process of sexually assaulting Villa’s sister when the boy intervened and killed the man.  Modern courts would recognize this as a justifiable homicide, and the rape of a maiden was certainly a crime in a conservative Catholic country.  Unfortunately, in those days, peasants had no rights in court.  Doroteo Arango, his underground name Francisco Villa, became a criminal when he decided not to let his sister be raped.

Villa was by no means a libertarian--his violent streak and willingness to "liberate" property attests to that.  Zapata was the libertarian, not Villa, but Villa and the Villistas had a series of magnificent libertarian moments and a long list of libertarian grievances.  Despite his record as an outlaw and later as a warlord, Villa was an underdog and a victim of circumstance like millions of other working men and women.  Villa reorganized his cattle rustling gang into a guerrilla army and, through victory and innovation, this militia quickly transformed into a professional army.  Villa’s army represents a true people’s army, recruited from a population hostile to the federal government and loyal to their local underdog whom songs and newspapers were describing as a Robin Hood figure.  The career of Pancho Villa is significant to so many Mexicans because Villa symbolizes victims finally getting back at their oppressors after suffering so long.

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Continued tomorrow in Part 4

Villistas image courtesy of Pinterest.  Full permission to reprint or republish this article is granted, provided the author is credited and this page is linked back to.

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