Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna was both loved and loathed, famous and infamous.
In war, he proved courageous and tenacious, yet many of the people he conquered described him as vindictive, despotic, rash and vain. He dubbed himself the “Napoleon of the West” and dressed the part. He collected Napoleonic artifacts.
Among his strengths were a love for Mexico, excellent skills as a negotiator and success as a military strategist. For a while, he brought some level of unity to the country.
In the 1820s and for a time in the 1830s, Santa Anna was revered as a savior who staved off Spain and other foreign powers, including the United States at the Alamo. He served as Mexico’s president 11 times, although he never really governed, retiring to his haciendas as much as possible.
Captured by a small band of Texans at Jacinto in 1836, Santa Anna sold out Mexican land to the United States for his own freedom in the Treaties of Velasco, and declared Mexicans incapable of governing themselves. As late as 1853, he installed himself as Mexico’s ‘Most Serene Highness,” funneled public money into his pockets and sold more territory to the United States. He reneged on both deals.
Having turned on his own people, Santa Anna was convicted of treason, exiled twice and consistently vilified as a traitor, turncoat and tyrant. He thought he could continue making comebacks; instead he became a pariah, rejected by liberals and conservatives alike.
In his own eyes, Santa Anna was a patriot who had expelled tyrants. He clearly opposed revolutionaries. He claimed to despise dictatorships, reminding citizens that he was a “friend of liberty” and among the first to demand a liberal political system.
However, he also suppressed free expression, allowed rampant corruption and ruled with an iron fist. He died in 1876, shunned and broke.
Lesson: As high-blown or as desperate as your business affairs may become, never succumb to greed.
— Adapted from Santa Anna of Mexico, Will Fowler, University of Nebraska Press.