Our Brand is Crisis is a film about the attempt to implement U.S. policies and neoliberalism in Bolivia. Goni, president of Bolivia who is running for reelection, hires a top team of neoliberal campaign advisors to help him win re-election. The advisors use many techniques successful in American campaigns (branding, focus groups, etc) and manage to help the president win re-election but not keep his position in the coming months. Ultimately, Our Brand is Crisis is not just a display of the failures of Neo-liberalism in Latin America but also the dangers of implementing U.S. policies in areas vastly different from the U.S.
In the film, the U.S. advisors hired by Goni approach the very difficult task of re-electing the unpopular, Neo-liberal president. Goni supports “free trade, export production, and the doctrine of comparative advantage” (Chasteen 311), all policies that focus groups and man on the street interviews prove are unpopular with the very poor majority of the population. The policies of neoliberalism are often detrimental to the poorest populations in Latin American countries. “Increasing poverty, stagnant or falling real wages, and a further and steady widening of the distribution of income in virtually every nation has also become the omnipresent and largely ignored social context of the neoliberal era” (Cypher 47). The poor make up the majority of the constituents in Latin America, making this issue very important to the majority of the suffering country. The poor were tired of being “locked into a neoliberal cycle of external dependence that hinged upon the subminimum wages of its long-suffering workforce (Cypher 49). Lower wages meant even less money to buy necessary goods, and having the economy depend on foreign sources means that more money goes out of the country than stays in. This means that social projects rarely funded by foreign investors are cut and ignored, hurting many citizens already struggling to make ends meet.
However, rather than suggest a change in policy, the advisors suggest a change in brand, an American and market-influenced concept that involves changing slogans and public image. Although they win the election, they win by such a small margin that Goni’s unpopular policies send the country into a chaos of riots just months after the election, forcing the president to retire in disgrace.
This embarrassing turn of events occurred, not because the brand was off, but because the U.S. advisors and neoliberal Latin American leaders were trying to force a U.S. influenced policy on an area that is vastly different than the consumer society in North America. Even though the U.S. also has a large income gap between rich and poor, even the poorest of citizens usually have access to electricity, water, and basic consumer goods with the U.S. economy generating about $40,000 per person (Chasteen 316). In Latin America, many, many more citizens are poor than middle class or wealthy (Chasteen 316), making the implementation of a consumer, free-market economy useless when most poor people have no extra income to consume goods. In addition, there is a racial factor. The economic oppression of the poor also meant the economic oppression of native and darker skinned citizens, who make up the majority of the lower classes (Chasteen 320). This long history of a stratified and oppressive racial society only adds fuel to the fire and makes the reaction against neoliberalism more violent, manifesting itself in violent groups like the Shining Path, or in the riots that forced Goni out of the country.
Ultimately, the policy of neoliberalism is not a blanket solution to the economic problems of Latin America. Each country has a unique economic history and circumstances that are vastly different than the United States, and before a solution can be found, those factors must be taken into account.