General Antonio López de Santa Anna
General Antonio López de Santa Anna remains one of the more controversial and enigmatic figures in Mexican and United States history. Born in Jalapa in 1794, Santa Anna followed his father into Spanish royal service and entered the army. He joined the political fray in Mexico as a young officer, but abandoned the Royalist cause in 1821 and supported independence.
The next three decades were marked by tumult, internecine warfare, and political intrigue. Against this fluid and violent background, Santa Anna made his mark as a savvy political opportunist and caudillo, or military strongman. He positioned himself as the savior of Mexico by relying on his military credentials and base of support in the state of Vera Cruz. When the political climate turned unfavorable, Santa Anna simply retired temporarily from public service, and began to plot his comeback. This tactic led him to the Mexican presidency on numerous occasions, but often involved him in misadventures, including the failed military operation against Texas insurgents in 1836.
When the U.S.-Mexican War erupted, Santa Anna was living in Cuba as an exile. Sensing an opportunity for a comeback, he returned to his native country and engineered a coup against the government. Santa Anna installed himself as president and, once again, national savior.
He failed in this gambit, however, and U.S. success in the war once again forced Santa Anna into exile, this time in Colombia. He made one more comeback, in 1853, and secured the presidency for the 11th time. Santa Anna died in Mexico in 1876.