Our Brand is Crisis

Our Brand is Crisis is documentary film about the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, which saw Gonzalo Sanches de Lozada elected President. Gonzalo Sanches de Lozada, or “Gani” as he is called by the Bolivian people and throughout the film, and his presidential campaign workers form the majority of the interviews, and the film is told largely as their story and perspectives on the campaign and what the country of Bolivia needs in order to fix the major problems facing the country. The majority of the film takes place during the campaign with hired political consultants Jeremy Rosner, Stan Greenberg and James Carville helping to make Goni more appealing to Bolivia.

The problem facing Goni and Bolivia as a whole is largely economic. This is typical for many Latin American countries, as James Cypher points out in “The Slow Death of the Washington Consensus on Latin America,” “Latin America engaged in an indiscriminate opening to foreign capital, thus permitting its pattern of national economic development to become hostage to the volatile and perverse whims of global financial markets.” For Bolivia, foreign debt and the interest payments forced Goni to privatist many industries including the valuable natural gas reserves of the country. Goni believed this to be the only way to permanently fix the Bolivian economy instead of simply finding a temporary solution to the problem.

The backlash Goni faces for this policy, as well as raising taxes eventually leads to his resignation shortly after he wins 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 the spread of riots in the country. Support began to form around his rival Evo Morales, who is the current President of Bolivia and a native ethnicity. Throughout much of the film, Goni suffered in part due to the view of many Bolivians that he was too sympathetic to America, something the American campaign workers reinforces. Anti-Americanism and the growth of native groups is common in Latin America, where people view the US as exploiters of their natural resources. John Perkins writes in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, “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.”

A major limiting factor for Bolivia and other nations to get out from underneath this debt burden is their inherent political instability. That Goni could win the presidency with just over 20% of the total vote in itself suggests that no matter how optimistically events could have progressed for Bolivia, it was always going to be a struggle for him to hold enough political capital to keep out political infighting and stay the course on a plan to address Bolivia’s economic problems on the long term. The poor economic state of the people, however, meant that they were not willingly to listen to Goni and his belief that things would turn around, as they saw themselves only getting worse.

It seems Goni’s Presidency was doomed from the start. He simply was viewed as too “American” to hold the faith of the Bolivian people through tough times. Our Brand is Crisis is an fascinating look into a political campaign in Latin America, and how similar that process is too American politics at time, and so different at others. The movie is a very good documentary that provides real insight in the major political problems of Latin America.