Friday, March 6, 2015

The Pastry War: The War for Redemption

Bombing of San Juan de Ulua
Mexico had a rough 19th century. It became independent from Spain during the early half of the 1800’s. But after declaring independence, it had a tumultuous internal politics filled with infighting, ambitious men, and imperialist threats. By 1830’s Mexico suffered a horrendous situation, including loss of territories and economic crisis. Eventually, it led to Mexico’s first taste of a gunboat diplomacy of a European imperialist on the conflict known as Pastry War.

As said, Mexico suffered difficulties during the 1830’s. In 1836, the Mexicans launched a military campaign against Texas, whose American settlers wanted to be free from Mexico. The so-called Napoleon of the West, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, led the campaign to subdue the Texans. He defeated the defenders of the famous Alamo but suffered a terrible defeat in the Battle of San Jacinto. San Jacinto temporarily destroyed the prestige of Santa Ana and Mexico itself. Mexico loss Texas and Santa Ana retired to his hacienda in the port city of Veracruz.

In addition to loss of territory, the loss of Texas also led to a financial crisis for Mexico. The war against the Texans resulted to huge war debts that Mexico could not pay. Mexico’s economy faced a crisis after numerous political infighting among various factions, among them being led by General Santa Ana who became President more than once.
The political crisis also sparked diplomatic problems as well. Nationalistic Mexicans from different parties fought in riots in the capital, Mexico City. Properties of Spanish and French had been ransack by rioters. They became targets for nationalist Mexicans who saw them as foreign agents working for European countries that desired to make Mexico a colony once more.

In 1838, the disgraced general, the financial crisis, and the discriminative attacks on foreigners resulted to an event that marked a change in Mexican history. On that year, Mexican soldiers became involved in a riot in a district of Mexico City. They looted establishments and businesses. A French pastry shop owner, named Remontel, fell victim to this riot. The Mexicans almost destroyed his pastry shop. The Mexican authorities lend a deaf ear to Remontel that led him to seek help from his home government. He reported to Paris the incident that happened to him and the French government felt that it could be used as a reason to punish Mexico for many of its past doings.

France had been at odds with the Mexico for quite some time by that time. The French government protested against the Mexican government that forced foreign business owners, mostly French, to provide loans to fund the war for Texas. The French also became furious when Mexico could not pay its millions of dollars of debts to French banks. Lastly, they voiced their terror concerning the destruction of many French businesses. Thus, the France saw Remontel’s case as a good enough reason to act.

France tried first to solve the issue diplomatically. French king Louis-Philippe ordered French ambassador to Mexico, Baron Louis Deffaudis to send a demand to the Mexican government of President Anastasio Bustamante. The ultimatum demanded Mexico to pay Remontel compensation worth 60,000 Mexican Pesos (P). In addition, they demanded additional P600,000 as indemnity for other French businesses destroyed by riots. The French also demanded that French business owners be exempted from the policy of force loans and the Mexican authorities to punish their abusive and corrupt officials. The Mexican government who knew they could not pay the compensation rejected the French demands.

When the Mexican government rejected France’s demands, it gave them an excuse to launch a punitive expedition against the French and launch a gunboat diplomacy that they became so famous for. On April 1838, King Louis-Philippe dispatched the French navy under Admiral Charles Baudin to the Gulf of Mexico and initiate a blockade of the Mexican ports. They planned to strangle Mexico economically. The blockade aimed to cut the customs revenue of Mexico which will worsen its financial crisis that will prompt the Mexican government to accept French demands. The French Press dubbed the conflict as the Pastry War.

On November 27, 1838, French forces attacked the fortress in San Juan de Ulua, near the major port city of Veracruz. Upon the capture of the fortress, France demanded additional P200,000 from their P600,000 demand.

With the fall of San Juan de Ulua, Mexico formally declared war against the French. But the Mexicans knew that the fight will be difficult. Their army still haven’t recovered from their defeat in Mexico. It had low morale and had no experience commanders. But in a desperate time, President Bustamante swallowed his pride and asked for the services of one of his main political rival, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Santa Ana, who wanted to redeem himself from his humiliating defeat in Mexico, accepted the job with the hope of reviving his political career and prestige. On December 1838, Santa Ana commanded a rag tag army to re-capture Veracruz. And on the 4th, the Battle of Veracruz raged. Mexican army fought with bravery and ferocity and drove back the French to their transport ships. The French retreated under the cover of artillery fire. Mexican charged to the French with Santa Ana on horseback, leading the attack. One of the French grape shot, however, hit Santa Ana. The shot killed his horse and damaged Santa Ana’s leg severely. So damage Santa Ana’s leg that the doctor had no choice but to amputate it, leaving the General with only one leg.

The famous leg of Santa Ana became a symbol of his popularity. He buried it in his hacienda in Veracruz.

After the Battle of Veracruz, Britain decided to mediate a peace deal between the two belligerents. British Ambassador to Mexico, Richard Pakenham mediated the deal that ended the so-called Pastry War. With the victory on Veracruz, Mexico managed to lower the French demands from P800,000 back to the original P600,000. Mexico also accepted to pay compensation to Remontel amounting to P60,000. After the Mexicans and French agreed to the deal, French forces withdrew on March 9.

The Pastry War affected Mexico for years. The payment of the French demand led to a continuing financial crisis. The event became a first taste of French aggression that soon followed by a major conflict almost two decades later. But General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana emerged as the ultimate victor of the War. His popularity soared that allowed him to return to the main spotlight of Mexican politics and became President of Mexico once more. His leg became equally prestigious, after the war, he had it exhumed and moved to Mexico City where they enshrined it with honors.

See also:

Burton Kirkwood. The History of Mexico. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO,LLC, 2010.

Michael Hall. Pastry War. The Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War: A Political, Social and Military History v. 1, A-L. Spencer Tucker (ed.). Santa Barbara,   California: ABC-CLIO,LLC, 2010.

William Beezley. Mexico in World History. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Christopher Klein. The Pastry War, 175 Years Ago. Accessed March 4, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.