Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
From a military man to a political leader of volatile nation. Never such a man had the ambitions and drive to become the President of Mexico for eleven times. In each term, he ruled Mexico with an iron fist and a hand that squandered the wealth of his impoverish nation for his vices. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, remembered for his victory in the Alamo but his country knows him both as a hero and villainous tyrant.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna served as the President of Mexico for 11 times. In the early stage of his life he served in the Spanish colonial army and fought the insurgents brought by the Hidalgo Revolt in 1810. But in 1821, he betrayed his peninsular or Spanish superiors by defecting and supporting the Plan de Iguala of Agustin de Iturbide. However, when Iturbide became the tyrannical monster that the Mexican people wanted gone, he rose up in revolt against Iturbide. In less than a decade, his tumultuous role as the Mexican President began. His life resembled a roller coaster ride with both ups and downs and twist and turns. With the excesses in his both lifestyle and exercise of power, the Mexican deposed him. Santa Anna became a chapter and major player in Mexican history for more than three decades.

In the early stages of his life, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna served as a soldier in the Spanish colonial army. He came from a middle class creole family, born on February 21, 1794 in Jalapa, Veracruz. He received formal education but at the young age of 16 he entered into service in the Spanish colonial army. He served under the command of Joaquin de Arredondo, who highly influenced Santa Anna, in Veracruz. At the same year of his entry in the army, Mexico plunged into war for independence starting with the Hidalgo Revolt and the Cry of Dolores. Of course, Santa Anna fought against this insurrections and in 1813, he, with a position of lieutenant by then, along with his superior Arredondo, went to Tejas (Texas) to subdue the rebellion in the province. Arredondo showed his great military prowess and authority. He won the Battle of Medina, resulting to an astounding Spanish victory with thousands of rebels down with only 55 casualties in their side. Santa Anna witnessed and participated in the victory. Santa Anna also participated and observed his superiors brutality towards rebels and the autocratic power that his higher officials exercised during the counter-insurgency campaign that followed the victory. His experience in Texas had a profound effect in Santa Anna.

Mexican Independence in 1821 became Santa Ann’s debut in the national political stage of the country. In 1821, the moderate Plan de Iguala had been unveiled by Agustin  de Iturbide and many in both conservative and liberal and creoles and peninsulares supported the plan. Many in the colonial army defected to Iturbide’s side, among them, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Santa Anna then began to besiege Spanish troops in Veracruz in the name of Iturbide. By September 28, Mexico declared its independence and Santa Anna got promoted to the position of General. When Iturbide became the Emperor of Mexico, corruption and abuses plagued the new government of Mexico. Iturbide’s autocratic rule had evaporated the support of the people and the army. Santa Anna along with other former rebel leaders rose up against Iturbide in December 1822. In February 1823, Santa Anna with the former revolutionary leader Guadalupe Victoria and a general in the imperial army of Iturbide, Jose Antonio de Echavarri, signed the Plan de Casa Mata. The Plan called for a new Congress, but it cut short in denouncing the Emperor, rather it continued to respect the Emperor. Many Mexican supported the plan and a month later, Iturbide, with his court and government in turmoil and confusion, abdicated and went to exile. A new Mexican constitution had been promulgated in the following year and the Republic of Mexico was born. Meanwhile, as a reward for his efforts in deposing Iturbide, Santa Anna became the governor of Yucatan and later on of Veracruz.

Spain’s attempt to reconquer Mexico further increased Santa Anna’ popularity and prestige as a great military commander. In 1829, Spain wanted to reconquer the former colonies of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which included Mexico. In July, with over 3,000 troops from Cuba landed in Tampico to begin the invasion. The Mexican reacted quickly and strongly. They did not want to return to the oppressive and discriminative rule under Spain. Mexico City sent Santa Anna to fight the Spaniards. He then besieged the Spanish forces that had landed in Tampico for several months. By September, the Spaniards had surrendered and the Mexicans credited the Victory in Tampico to Santa Anna. The popularity of Santa Anna in the public soared.

In 1833, Santa Anna became the President of Mexico. Before then, Mexico’s first decade of being independent had been wrought by political fighting, insurgencies. The nation had fell to utter chaos. Presidents came and went in just months, few only survived while serving a year or two. Issues concerning the government becoming centralist or federalist became a widely debated topic in politics. The 1824 Constitution invoked the idea of federalism but some Presidents utter differently and began the centralization of the country. This issue became also a factor in the deposition of Presidents. Santa Anna played major roles in the ousting and the placing of presidents. In 1832, Mexico had a centralist government under Melchor Muzquiz and Anastasio Bustamante that enjoyed little public support. Then Santa Anna joined the side of the federalist and also liberals in 1832 and deposed the President. Congress in 1833 then made Santa Anna the President of Mexico with Valentino Gomez Farias as his Vice President. But Santa enjoyed the life in the battlefield more than the life in the National Palace handling the head aches and the boring life of an administrator, so either real or made up, he made an illness a reason for his absence and retired in his Hacienda Manga de Clavo in Veracruz living most of his duties to his Vice Gomez Farias.

Farias championed liberal reforms during his tenure as interim President as Santa Anna “recuperate” from his said illness in Manga de Clavo. He promoted the spread of public education to the provinces and to the impoverished. He also allowed freedom of press and speech. He also began the secularization of the government, meaning the separation of church and state. As a liberal and anti-cleric, he attacked the wealth and privileges of the church. He ordered the confiscation of church lands and its redistributions. He also ordered the end of the privileges of the church. But Gomez Farias went far when he began to reform the armed forces. He began by removing the immunity of soldiers from facing courts during lawsuits. He also wanted to extend government control over the army and reduce its numbers so as to reduce the huge maintenance cost from the bankrupt state coffers. Gomez Farias reforms added generals in the list of those who wanted him gone along with the clergy and the conservatives. Santa Anna, with a discerning eye for opportunity for popularity supported the bandwagon of those who wanted Gomez Farias deposed. In April 1834, Santa Anna supported the conservative Plan de Cuernavaca. He then marched back to Mexico City with an army, deposed Gomez Farias, removed congress, suspended the federalist constitution of 1824, and proclaimed himself the dictator of Mexico.

The Dictatorship of Santa Anna from 1834 resulted into massive corruption, rebellion, and brutality. Opposition members removed from power and arrested. Liberalist ideas disappeared and liberals became persecuted. Meanwhile, Santa Anna enjoyed a lifestyle of a king and held lavish parties and gambled money from the nation’s coffers while his people outside the national palace continued to suffer poverty and chaos. Centralization became also strong under the second term of Santa Anna. In 1835, he promulgated the constitutional amendments known as the Siete Leyes or the Seven Laws. It centralized the power to the President and gave him considerable power over the other two branches of the government. Also, states became departments ruled by caudillos that President Santa Anna appointed. As a result of Santa Anna’s centralization, eleven states rebelled. Santa Anna, learning from his experience in Texas, implemented brutal tactics and policies against the insurgents. For example, on April 1834, Santa Anna crushed a rebellion in Zacatecas. Upon his victory he allowed his troops to loot Zacatecas for two days, it became known as the Rape of Zacatecas.

Little did Santa Anna knew, his policy of centralization had affected one of the most volatile regions in Mexico. Its northern province of Tejas or Texas gave Santa Anna his most famous victory and his greatest defeat.

See also:

Galloway, Andrew. "Santa Anna, Antonio Lopez de (1794-1876)." in Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History: An Encyclopedia v. 1. Edited by Steven Danver. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011.

Foster, Lynn. A Brief History of Mexico. New York, New York: Facts On File, 2010.

Vasquez-Gomez, Juana. Dictionary of Mexican Rulers, 1325-1997. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Miller, Robert. Mexico: A History. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

No comments:

Post a Comment