“Politicians offer marvels–heaven, earth and sea, but they never come through.”
The political documentary Our Brand Is Crisis illustrates the behind-the-scenes realities of getting a candidate elected. The candidate in this case is Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado “Goni” and the country is Bolivia. Goni, who served as Bolivia’s president from 1993-1997 opened national companies to foreign investment–an action that was not particularly popular with many of the country’s inhabitants who saw Globalization as the ‘selling’ of their country with the result of the loss of jobs to foreign workers. With this negative view of his past performance as the country’s president, but still wanting to win the 2002 election, Goni employed American consulting firm, Greenville, Carver and Strum (GCS) to help him win. Our Brand is Crisis refers to the strategy Goni’s team decided to employ for the purposes of winning the election and regaining the presidency.
The film does an excellent job of showing how a candidate is packaged for the voters. The GCS team package Goni as a product, and they create an image they think will get the votes–specifically by the use of focus groups. Information gained from the focus groups is then analyzed and Goni is molded accordingly into the sort of candidate his political strategists think the people will vote for. In candid moments, it’s quite clear that the attitude of the ‘real’ Goni is far different from the official presentation. And the behind-the-scenes clips of Goni’s little trips out into the countryside to meet the peasants don’t reflect flatteringly on this extremely wealthy man who is frequently seen as “part of the oligarchy.” But the mission of GCS is to get their candidate elected–and–an old familiar phrase here–spread the “democratic process.”
There’s something overwhelmingly wrong with this set-up. Here’s a wealthy Bolivian, educated in the US who uses his resources to influence an election. It seems unlikely that the resources used to gather information from the focus groups are available to the other candidates, Evo Morales (Movement Towards Socialism), for example. We see Goni and his team using the word ‘crisis’ throughout his campaign, and we also see GCS’s strategy of smearing a “dirty candidate.” It seems so ludicrous, at times, to see the poverty of the Bolivian people when compared to the wealth and privilege enjoyed by Goni.
While I really enjoyed this film (and if you enjoyed The War Room chances are you’ll enjoy this too), some questions remain unanswered. Did Goni fund GCS himself, or did he receive some sort of assistance? It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to project just how much it costs to fund this large GCS team for a long period of time. Also, why did Goni continue to use the services of GCS after the election? What exactly was their function then? The film implies that GCS remained in an adviser capacity to monitor the revolution barometer of Bolivia but these questions remain unanswered. Directed by Rachel Boynton, the film is in English and Spanish with subtitles.