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MEXICO: Santa Anna

Luis Rodrigo Díaz Terán Ortegón writes with sad irony about Santa Anna and the Alamo: "Santa Anna is one of your favorite villains. However, you owe very much to him: He led Mexican armies once and again (deliberately some of us think) into defeat and disaster in the 1846-1848 war (e.g La Batalla de la Angostura, or the Battle of Buena Vista, as you know it), in a cowardly way he erdered the Mexican army to withdraw from Texas to save his life, and he sold to you the Mesilla. He made things for you easier, so why don't you build a statue of him?"

RH: Obviously Luis Rodrigo is using "you" in the plural, since Santa Anna did not sell the the Mesilla to me. His message is proof that the Mexicans have not forgotten the loss of Texas and other territories now part of the US, and that they blame Santa Anna for it. Let's get his name straight. It is Antonio López de Santa Anna, with nn, whereas Ana is spelt with one n. Born in 1794, he dominated Mexican politics for 30 years; he died in 1876, The son of a Spanish official, he was a cadet in the Spanish Army and took part in the campaign against the Indians in northern Veracruz. He joined the independence movement of Agustín de Iturbide but then plotted against him and became president of Mexico in 1833. He fought with Texas in 1835-36, capturing the Alamo but suffering defeat at San Jacinto, where there is a large monument celebrating the Texan victory. In other words, he lost Texas.

Luis Rodrigo goes on the refer to the 1846-48 war with the US. General Zachary Taylor invaded Mexico and took Monterrey, then Saltillo. His army settled in an estate named "Buena Vista". Santa Anna unsuccessfully attacked, and it and was forced to withdraw with great losses. Since he moved south to challenge the forces of General Winfield Scott,which had landed at Veracruz, this was the end of the war in the north. What Luis Rodrigo calls La Mesilla is known in English as the Gadsden Purchase, after the American diplomat James Gadsden, who in 1853 bought the strip of southern New Mexico and Arizona known as La Mesilla Valley. This gave the South a route to build a railroad to the Pacific Coast, but it was not built until after the Civil War. The $30 million the US paid for it greatly helped the Mexican treasury, but Santa Anna was accused of selling out to the Yankees.

Santa Anna may be viewed in several ways. Luis Rodrigo represents the common Mexican view that he was a traitor. American historian Lesley Byrd Simpson, in Many Mexicos, describes him as a buffoon, parading around Mexico like a sacred relic a leg which was amputated after a battle near Verzxruz. It would be kinder to view him as a tragic figure. In any case, the basic fact is that when he came to power, Mexico was the dominant power in North America. When he died, Mexico lagged dismally behind the United States.

Ronald Hilton - 11/20/02