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  • Die Grenzen des "American Dream": Hans Sitarz als "Gelddoktor" in Nicaragua 1930-1934
  • Michel Gobat
Die Grenzen des "American Dream": Hans Sitarz als "Gelddoktor" in Nicaragua 1930-1934. Edited by Thomas Fischer and Anneliese Sitarz. Frankfurt am Main: Vervuert Verlag, 2008. Pp. 192. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Index.

This book is Hans Sitarz's account of the key role that he played in the end phase of the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua, which lasted from 1912 to 1933. Between 1930 and [End Page 125] 1934, this Austrian citizen directed the Banco Nacional de Nicaragua (BNN), which was then run by a consortium of New York-based banks and the Nicaraguan state. Together with the U.S.-led Guardia Nacional, the BNN was the main pillar of an occupation based on the politics of Dollar Diplomacy. Although Sitarz wrote his memoir twenty years after leaving Nicaragua, he presents a remarkably accurate and fresh perspective on a critical moment in the country's history. The book's value is further enhanced by its inclusion of 54 photos from the Sitarz family archive and by Thomas Fischer's insightful introduction.

Not surprisingly, the book above all sheds new light on the BNN. It not only elucidates the bank's controversial policies but its dependency on the New York-based bankers. Especially illuminating is Sitarz's depiction of how strongly the bank's board of directors was influenced by the German bank M.M. Warburg & Co. Indeed, a key contribution of his memoir is to reveal the obscure but important role that Europeans played in upholding U.S. imperial rule carried out under the banner of Dollar Diplomacy. Nicaraguan specialists will undoubtedly appreciate Sitarz's account of local politics and society. Time and again, he provides revealing details of prominent Nicaraguan politicians and businessmen. For example, never before have we seen how government affairs were impeded by President Moncada's problem with alcoholism. We also get fascinating insights into the shady deals that marked the 1932 electoral campaign. Furthermore, Sitarz describes in detail how he had to fend off favor-seeking elites, thus providing much insight into clientelistic banking practices. Especially interesting is Sitarz's account of how he was targeted by the nationalist campaign against U.S. control of the BNN and its restrictive lending policies. Sitarz explains in vivid terms the apparent paradox of why a European became the main target of anti-Americanism in Nicaragua. But the account also reveals that dollar diplomats like himself harbored racist views of Nicaraguans. This is most evident when he disparages local elites for their allegedly anti-entrepreneurial spirit.

Yet the book focuses not only on political and financial matters. One illuminating chapter deals with the 1931 earthquake that devastated Managua and claimed about 2000 lives. Sitarz provides a detailed description of the devastation and the ensuing epidemic caused by the destruction of the city's water supply. But he also stresses residents' valiant efforts to reconstruct their city. He reveals how some government officials had proposed to relocate the capital to a cooler region in the north and how Managua's municipal council hoped to finance the city's reconstruction by having the U.S. government impose a two cent tax on moviegoers in the United States.

Throughout the book, Sitarz sheds interesting light on numerous aspects of daily life in Managua, including elite leisure activities, household labor relations, the competitive lifestyle of Managua's foreign community, and the hardships caused by the heavy rainfalls of late 1932, which led to the flooding of Lake Managua. In addition, the book contains brief descriptions of other Nicaraguan towns, coffee haciendas, and United Fruit's banana plantation on the Atlantic coast. Since Sitarz's work involved considerable air travel, he was privy to fascinating bird's-eye views of the Nicaraguan landscape, such as of the Momotomo volcano. Finally, Sitarz provides brief accounts of his visits to other [End Page 126] Central American cities, especially San José, as well as to tourist sites like the Maya ruins in Chichén Itzá. Curiously, the book provides little information on two processes that marked Nicaraguan history of the early 1930s: the Sandino Rebellion and Somoza's...


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