Santa Anna (Antonio López de Santa Anna) was born in Vera Cruz in 1794 and began serving in the Army in Spanish Mexico when he was a teenager. He was said to have first fought in support for the Spanish against Mexican independence before joining the movement in 1821 in support of an independent Mexico. He continued to be near the forefront of leadership in the young country of Mexico and helped defeat the Spanish effort to reclaim Mexico in the late 1820s. Santa Anna was himself elected President in 1833. The previous two decades had seen chaotic changes in the country of Mexico with the form of government varying from a constitutional republic to a centralist form with Santa Anna at the head, supported by the military. The country was vast with the Central American part being largely populated and the North American portion being sparsely populated by Native American tribes and an increasing number of American settlers. Under Santa Anna, its policy changed from encouraging settlements to being more restrictive toward them.