Our Brand is Crisis

The documentary “Our Brand is Crisis” shows how one US company assists Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozado in his run for re-election to President of Bolivia during the 2002 campaign.Faith in ”democratic models” was sold by the US consultants as the best option for Bolivia. While the US political tactics of negative campaigning eventually won the election for Goni, it was by a slim margin of 22.5% while much of the remaining population strongly disliked or even hated him. The win would not sit well with many and their discontent became violent as Goni raised taxes and threatens to sell Bolivias natural gas to Chile, a move considered  by most that would eliminate their economic viability. The take home message from this film demonstrates that democracy cannot be globalized using the same US-made formula but intsead must be wanted by the majority and made to support the needs of the countries it is to represent.

   With little capital investment available to Bolivia, the rewards of neoliberalism seem one-sided with Bolivia on the loosing side. Import tarrifs initially designed to encourage national growth were eliminated to open up transnational free trade. The initial influx of foreign goods (mostly US goods) like Chasteen writes gave people the ability to access ”Internet, tune in via satellite to US or European television, and become avid consumers in a transnatonal economy”(315). However, another aspect of neoliberalism was the deregulation of capital flow and this left multinational corporations free to buy out Latin American companies. What happened in Bolivia, as shown in the film with the angry retorts of the Bolivian workers, was that foreign companies often brought in their own workers and many Bolivians were pushed out. The only ones profiting from these foreign investements were the foreign buyers and the original property owners usually all ready wealthy families. Similar to what was happening in other Latin American countries as noted in James Cypher’s article The Slow Death of the Washington Consensus on Latin America, Bolivians who managed to keep their jobs often found that their wages were reduced to stay competitive to keep transnational companies from choosing other countries offering cheap labor such as those of Asia (48).

 Since colonial times, the chasm between the few wealthy and the many poor of Latin America has been severe. The attempts to bridge this chasm have been brutally cut down by those who wish to remain in their priviledged positions. John Perkins talks about one such influential person named Jaime Roldos Aguilera, President of Ecuador (1979-1981), who fought for social reform to benefit all the people of Ecuador, not simply the wealthy. Ecuador, like Bolivia’s natural gas resource, has international interests in its source of Petroleum that lies beneath the Amazon Rainforest. Before Roldos came into office, according to Perkins “small club families who ran Ecuador palyed into the hands of the international banks. They saddled their country with huge amounts of debt, backed by the promise of oil revenues.”(165). However, the revenues often were slim after debts to the foreign companies were paid. Roldos stood to regulate these buisness deals between the wealthy families and foreign corporations because they directly affected the good of the whole nation especially when the deals were for natural resources. 

As seen in the film, the backlash of free trade is that it has hurt those countries who do not have the capital to invest and therefore become dependent on what little financial gains come into their country after the foreign companies take their share. Being mainly a single export economy, Bolivia has no othe alternatives to create jobs. It seems that for a country like the US where there are many sources of economic viability it makes sense to have free trade but for Bolivia they are left vulnerable to extortion. Bolivia could still benefit from democracy where they could choose a leader that would protect them from the throws of globalized markets.