Traitor, Turncoat, and Tyrant
The Gulf of Mexico port of Veracruz, with its notoriously insalubrious climate, was awash with light the morning of 7 October 1867. The sky was an impossible blue. Like pterodactyls from a previous era, pelicans could be seen gliding over the fortified island of San Juan de Ulúa, occasionally plunging into the shark-infested sea. Palm trees lining the waterfront in tropical splendor stood perfectly still in the morning sun. The fierce and feared norte, the strong wind that often prevented ships from docking, was not blowing that day. Instead the still air was humid and stifling. Smoke from gentlemen's cigars lingered around them, hanging oppressively over their troubled minds.
In the main theater of Veracruz, seventy-three-year-old General Antonio López de Santa Anna stood accused of high treason. It was the first day of the court-martial. He had been captured by the Mexican liberal forces in Yucatán in mid-July after attempting yet another remarkable political comeback. This time it was not to be. The hero of independence, six times president of the republic, who over the previous four decades had repeatedly and in the most extraordinary of circumstances succeeded in returning to power, was this time unable to pull off another miraculous recovery.
Colonel José Guadalupe Alba, the chief prosecutor, called for Santa Anna to be sentenced to death. He accused the septuagenarian and onelegged warrior of inciting the French intervention (1862–67) that had led to the imposition of a Habsburg prince, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, on the Mexican throne. He accused Santa Anna of recognizing the illegal empire that was forged and of then changing sides and fight-