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MEXICO: The Mexico of Santa Anna

Elias Castillo is a Mexican who has spent most of his life in the US, which he holds up as a model. Most Mexicans share his shame at the defeat of Santa Anna, but I wonder if they would agree with his general assessment. He writes: "Was Mexico the dominant power in North America in 1833? Hardly. In land, it certainly was larger than the United States. Militarily, it had a large army but virtually no navy. The army, while large, was ill-equipped and trained. The enlisted ranks were composed of mainly Indians and poor Mexicans, many of whom wore huaraches, or leather sandals instead of boots or shoes. Huaraches are not suitable for long marches. Their rifles were laughable--horribly machined and inaccurate even by the standards of that era. Some units were flashy in their equipment, most were dismal, both in appearance and morale.

Mexican generals of that era were also virtually unversed in military strategy. Most had bought their commissions and were stealing funds meant to equip and feed their men. Nor did the generals work as a team. Petty rivalries haunted the Mexican army. During the Mexican-American War, a Mexican army commander refused to come to the aid of a fellow general because he had not agreed with the strategy of that general. His answer to a message for help was: "ahora amuelate"--while an exact translation is not possible, amuelate, roughly means, "screw yourself." The morale of the soldiers was so low that they tended to surrender at the slightest chance of being defeated. Only if they were in far superior numbers, as in the Alamo, did the Mexican soldiers of that era, fight bravely.

Economically, Mexico was a mess in 1833. It was not participating in the Industrial Revolution, being an agriculture economy. It was a country in which the ruling elite were the heirs of the Conquistadores, mostly illiterate, cruel, unsophisticated and greedy. They held vast haciendas that were self-sustaining, and as long as they were not overly taxed, were ensconced in their vast ranches, content in being self-sustaining while ignoring the rest of the country. Schooling for the common people was virtually non-existent. Universities were little more than places where only the elite sent their children to while away their time in parties and gambling, while learning little more than reading and writing. There was no effort at establishing and enlarging science and technology and the economic understanding of Mexico's crumbling society, in which the slavery of Indians, like the slavery of the U.S. South, would eventually lead it to ruin. Mexico City was indeed a very large city, but it was a facade that hid the unchecked ruin of a country that was not efficiently taking advantage of its resources and was riddled with corruption and abysmal leadership--the legacy left by the loutish Conquistadores who had ruled Mexico for hundreds of years and who saw it only as a source of gold and silver and nothing else.

In contrast, the United States had a well trained, well equipped army that by and large had high morale. It had fought to a draw, one of the Europe's finest Armies and Navies. The United States, with its large ships, like the Constitution, were able to stand against the British Navy because of their superb training, marskmanship and the creative minds of their commanders. Economically, the United States were moving at lightning speed in the industrial revolution. It was adopting, as fast as it could, the more efficient steam power and machines that would, in a few year, make it an industrial giant of the world. Education was superb, supported by an enlightened government that realized that the best defense for a nation is having an educated and creative citizenry that was not afraid of entrepreneurship or shucking off obsolete attitudes and thinking. The United States was certainly the main power in North America, not Mexico in 1833".

Ronald Hilton - 11/29/02