Our Brand is Crisis is a documentary chronicling the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, and the Greenville Carville Shrum’s (GCS), an American consulting firm, involvement in the campaign. The main candidates in the election were Gonzalo Sanchez De Lozado (Goni) of the MNR party and Evo Morales of the MAS party. The film focuses on the problems within Bolivia, what the candidates promise and how GCS helps Goni use American style campaign tactics to try and win re-election, even though American politics are very different from Bolivian politics. The film begins and ends with a fatal revolt in which and Goni is eventually removed from power and forced to seek asylum in the United States.
GCS employed popular market strategies from the US, it took the concerns of the nation and sold its solution as an image, or “brand” without any substance. While they succeeded in getting Goni elected to office, GCS neglected the concerns of the people and instead capitalized upon them through manipulation to elect a politician who planned to change the Bolivian economic structure to one more dependent on foreign economic giants. It allowed for the opening of economic policy beneficial for foreign interests, and according to James Cypher, “Transnational corporations, particularly in the financial realm, used their extensive influence to consolidate a policy that promised to open virtually all areas of the Latin American economies to foreign investment and unrestrained financial flows across borders” (Cypher 47). Cypher’s article , The Slow Death of the Washington Consensus on Latin America , explains that this move towards a more globalized economy was marketed to Bolivian voters as a solution to national debt. This debt had caused huge economic disparity in the country and the solution was very appealing to those that did not realize that the low wages for ingenious families and general economic turmoil, exept within a very small percentage of the population, was brought on by the exploitation of the country’s resourses by large multi-national corporations. In a book by John Perkins called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he talks about how the realization of this global economic exploitation of native people might have led to a growth in support of Goni’s political rival, Morales.
The backlash Goni faced for his economic policy, as well as raising taxes eventually leads to his resignation shortly after he won the elections with little more than 22% of the final vote. Goni’s lack of widespread support contributed to the quick disintegration of his government, and led to the spread of riots in the country. Support began to form around his rival Evo Morales, who is the current President of Bolivia and is of native ethnicity. Throughout much of the film, Goni suffered in part due to the perception that he was too sympathetic to America, something the American campaign workers reinforced. Anti-Americanism and the growth of native groups is common in Latin America, where people view the US as exploiters of their natural resources. Perkins writes of one instance where: “On May 7, 2003, a group of American lawyers representing more than thirty thousand indigenous Ecuadorian people filed a $1 billion lawsuit against ChevronTexaco Corp.” This and other confrontations between Latin America and foreign investors are likely to become more and more commonplace. Perkins writes, “Third world debt has grown to more than $2.5 trillion, and the cost of servicing it – over $375 billion per year as of 2004 – is more than all third world spending on health and education, and twenty times what developing countries receive annually in foreign aid.” Chasteen explains these uprisings as a way for the Latin American people to return to “economic independence” (Chasteen 312).
The riots at the end of the film that cause Goni to flee the country are very similar to the violence we have seen depicted in all the films we have watched so far in class; and I think it is very telling of the mind-set of Latin American people when they are saddled with decisions on running their country that they do not support but don’t have the power to change because of corruption and favoritism to elite classes present in their governments. It seems as though Latin America suffers from a false sense of democracy that does not present a channel of change for those that feel unrepresented by the government.