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  • Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua under U.S. Imperial Rule
  • Thomas Schoonover
Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua under U.S. Imperial Rule. By Michel Gobat (Durham, Duke University Press, 2005) 373 pp. $84.95 cloth $23.95 paper

The well-argued and cleverly conceived study of United States–Nicaraguan relations will mark Gobat's career in Latin American studies. Gobat divides these relations into four time periods. First he ties William Walker—who led the most successful isthmian filibuster, the 1856 conquest of Nicaragua—to the U.S. intervention against José Santos Zelaya. Both interventions tried to control the transit and canal route. Second, Gobat examines the crisis of social authority that grew out of the forced removal of Zelaya. Third, he examines Dollar Diplomacy's successes against the cultural conflicts in Nicaragua in the 1920s and 1930s about American-induced "modern women" and the one between peasants and landlords. Fourth, he finds meaning in the revolution of 1927–1933 during which Anastasio Somoza adjusted power sources in Nicaragua by the murder of Augusto César Sandino in 1933.

The book treats U.S. intervention in Nicaragua from the Walker era until the killing of Sandino and the rise of Anastasio Somoza García. An "Epilogue" carries the story into contemporary times. Gobat tries to explain why many elites in the Walker era supported the filibuster well into his adventure and why many opponents of the Somoza dictatorship were Americanized Nicaraguan Conservatives. He finds deep meaning in the Nicaraguan dichotic adoption of certain U.S. ways and rejection of others. In the 1912–1933 intervention, Gobat notes, "Conservative oligarchs from Grenada [developed] an anti-American image of themselves and the nation." These varied responses to U.S. intervention came from the "uneven effects of U.S. intervention on distinct social groups." Gobat insists that both liberals and Conservatives were Americanized.

One of Gobat's major contributions (among many in this book) was [End Page 324] the use of regional sources for his investigation and argument. His extensive search of local Nicaraguan sources underscores his method to determine the impact of imperialism on the classes of a subjugated nation. He found Grenada "an ideal lens to examine how U.S. imperial rule could inadvertently 'democratize' rural society." This regional analysis emphasized the value of local archives and reduced Gobat's dependence on U.S. State Department sources.

A series of interesting questions indicated the path that Gobat pursued. He notes that the Nicaraguan elites, especially the Grenada grandees, divided and switched positions with ease. The grandees wanted to preserve the old, conservative values that anchored them. The ruling Conservative oligarchs did not necessarily reject U.S. consumption and leisure practices but thought that the U.S. occupation encouraged inamicable liberal institutions and practices.

Gobat's use of baseball to explain one social and political linkage between U.S. and Nicaraguan cultures, and simultaneously within Nicaraguan class structure, supplements Louis A. Pérez, Jr., "Between Baseball and Bullfighting," Journal of American History, LXXXII (1994), 493–518, on baseball in Cuba in the nineteenth century. Gobat's passage and Pérez's superb article are prime examples of informative cultural international history. Grenada's wealthiest families embraced baseball and English, yet tempered the manner and extent of their commitment to U.S. ideology and political aspirations.

Gobat used the surviving Nicaraguan public archives (thinned by eighty years of earthquakes) together with U.S. materials to develop an important monograph with a persuasive interpretation of the interrelationship of Nicaraguan social and political classes, especially the elites, with U.S. imperialism. America's imperialistic past still remains difficult for many North Americans to accept, but reckoning with it is necessary to illuminate the role of the United States in the present and its likely role in the future.

Thomas Schoonover
University of Louisiana, Lafayette


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pp. 324-325
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