In early 2002, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada hired the American Greenberg Carville Shrum consulting firm to help him win the Bolivian presidential election. When GCS representatives arrived in Bolivia a mere 100 days before the election, Lozada, known as Goni, was languishing in the polls. A former president, Goni was seen as arrogant, conservative, and unresponsive by much of the country, and he was struggling to gain ground on his two main opponents, Manfred Reyes Villa, a wealthy former mayor, and Evo Morales, an indigenous representative of the country’s coca farmers. What happened over those 100 days - and, indeed, the next two years - is documented in Rachel Boynton’s Our Brand Is Crisis, an extraordinary story of American influence abroad and the power and value of democracy.
From the moment they arrived on the ground in Bolivia, GCS staffers, represented in the film primarily by pollster Jeremy Rosner, were faced with a tremendous challenge. Not only were Goni’s previous terms as president - which, to Western eyes, was a time of unprecedented economic modernization - seen by many of the desperately poor Bolivians as a time when thousands of jobs were lost to privatization, but his American upbringing and education left him speaking an American-accented Spanish, traits that did not endear him to the indigenous majority. Through the use of countless focus groups (always offered the same cups of flat soda, along with a single plate of potato chips to share), GCS realized their only hope was to discredit Villa, their client’s primary opposition and the early leader in polls. With unflinching honesty, Rosner and his associates explained to Goni how the smear campaign would work: they assured him dirt would be leaked through friendly press outlets, and nothing could be tied to him - he would remain nominally above the fray.