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Anastasio Bustamante: A Mexican Caudillo (CEC)

Anastasio Bustamante (1780-1853) was of the more important warlords in early Mexico and wrestled with Santa Anne for the destiny of Mexico. Bustamante came from humble origins; his family had little status and his father worked mostly at tough jobs, including hauling snow from the volcanoes of Colima to Guadalajara. Even so, he managed a good education for his son, who entered the Seminary of Guadalajara at age 15. When young Bustamante had finished, studied medicine Mexico City, passed his medical examinations, and then served in San Luis Potosí as director of San Juan de Dios Hospital.

In 1808, now a young man of 28, Bustamante entered the royal army as a cavalry officer under the command of Félix María Calleja and just two years later, fought the rebels under Miguel Hidalgo as part of the Army of the Center. During the course of the War of Independence, Bustamante rose to the rank of general. He supported royalist-turned-insurgent Agustín de Iturbide and the Plan de Iguala, and on 19 March 1821, Bustamante proclaimed the independence of Mexico from Spain at Pantoja, Guanajuato. When Iturbide was declared emperor of Mexico, Bustamante continued his support, clearly siding with the growing centralist faction.

Iturbide rewarded Bustamante by naming him commander of the cavalry, second in command of the Army of the Center, and a member of the governing junta. The Regency named him field marshal and captain general of the Provincias Internas de Oriente y Occidente, effective 28 September 1821. At the fall of the Empire in 1823, he joined the ranks of the federalists and President Guadalupe Victoria retained him in command of the Provincias Internas.

In December 1828, under the Plan de Perote, Congress named Bustamante vice-president of the Republic under President Vicente Guerrero who moved to overthrow the recently elected centralist Manuel Gómez Pedraza. Bustamante took possession of this office on 1 April 1829, but soon was at odds with Guerrero. On 4 December 1829, Bustamante sided with centralists who rose against Guerrero, driving him from the capital. On 1 January 1830 Bustamante assumed the presidency on an interim basis after Congress declared Guerrero “incapable of governing.”

In office, Bustamante removed employees, mostly federalists, who lacked the confidence of “public opinion.” He instituted a secret police force and took steps to suppress the press. He exiled some of his competitors and expelled U.S. Minister Joel Poinsett. Bustamante was also involved in the kidnapping and execution of his predecessor, Guerrero.

These and other policies stimulated opposition, especially in the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, and Texas. In 1832, people in Veracruz broke into open rebellion, asking Antonio López de Santa Anna to take command. When their immediate demands were met (the resignation of some of Bustamante’s ministers), they increased their cause to include the president’s ouster. They intended to replace him with Manuel Gómez Pedraza, whose 1828 election the federalists had annulled in their Plan de Perote. Soon after, Anglo-American settlers in Texas rose up in sympathy with Santa Anna’s insurgency, and moved against the Mexican garrisons stationed at Anahuac, Nacogdoches, and Velasco, declaring Viva Santa Anna in many cases.

Bustamante turned over the presidency to Melchor Múzquiz on 14 August 1832 and left the capital to fight a force of Mexican rebels in Zacatecas. He defeated them at the Battle of Gallinero and then returned to fight Santa Anna, who was nearing Puebla. After two more battles, the three candidates, Bustamante, Santa Anna and Gómez Pedraza, signed the Agreements of Zavaleta on December 21-23 which allowed Gómez Pedraza to assume the presidency which had been taken from him by Guerrero under the condition that the country would hold hold new elections. Bustamante, now fifty three-years old, went into exile the following year, touring military and medical facilities in France while he plotted his comeback.