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Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada
Top Democratic Party consultants connected to the Obama White House have profited from advising politicians in South America who have long-term economic ties to British Petroleum.
Perhaps the best-known instance was in Bolivia, where the consulting group GCS worked to re-elect as president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, popularly known as “Goni.”
GCS is an acronym formed from the last names of the principals – pollster and Democratic Party political consultant Stanley Greenberg; James Carville, a long-time political consultant to former President Bill Clinton; and Bob Shrum, manager of Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
CGS is a sister corporation of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, the Washington-based consulting firm WND reported managed a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign rebranding BP as a more environmentally friendly corporation, while current White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel lived rent-free in the Washington-area home of Greenberg and his wife, Rep. Rosa De Lauro, D-Conn.
Emanuel served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which gave Greenberg polling contracts worth $239,996 in 2006 and $317,775 in 2008, according to political commentator and former President Bill Clinton consultant Dick Morris.
Emanuel’s rent-free income for the five years he lived in the Greenberg apartment could add up to more than $100,000, Morris said.
Last year, the federal Minerals Management Service heralded the BP Deepwater Horizon rig spilling millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico since April 20 as a model of safety.
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner did not return a WND call asking for comment on GCS efforts on behalf of BP in Bolivia.
Criticism from the left
In 2004, Tom Hayden, a prominent organizer in the 1960s of the radical student activist group Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, lashed into Sánchez de Lozada, GCS and BP in an article in The Nation magazine.
Hayden’s article was prompted by a 2004 referendum in Bolivia in which voters overwhelmingly repealed hydrocarbon laws “pushed in the 1990s by the hated Sánchez de Lozada.”
A “capitalization” program, in which five state-owned firms, including the oil company, had been privatized, was the keystone of the economic reform efforts of Sánchez de Lozada’s first presidency, from 1993 to 1997.
The 2004 referendum reversed Sánchez de Lozada’s capitalization reform by reconstituting the Bolivian state-owned oil company and allowing it to tax up to 50 percent of the value of production to be imposed on foreign companies like BP that produced Bolivian natural gas for export.
“BP supported the referendum,” Hayden wrote, “along with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as did U.S. Embassy officials, because the possible alternative – an Indian-led revolution – was even worse.”
Hayden noted Sánchez de Lozada’s political consultants in his 2002 bid to be re-elected president of Bolivia “were the star liberal Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and former presidential campaign manager James Carville.”
Hayden also made the connection between GCS and BP, commenting, “The Washington-based Greenberg firm represents British Petroleum, one of the Multinationals with billions invested in Bolivia.”
The study noted Sánchez de Lozada had trailed by more than 10 points in the 11-candidate field with less than one month to go, according to the public polls.
“Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research served as Sánchez de Lozada’s consultant on polling and strategy, and helped develop Sánchez de Lozada’s winning campaign message, which stressed solving Bolivia’s economic crisis by creating public works and jobs,” the report said.
Sánchez de Lozada won the general election with 22.4 percent of the vote, followed by former Cochabamba Mayor Manfred Reyes Villa with 20.9 percent, whom he defeated in a run-off.
In 2003, Sánchez de Lozada was forced to resign the presidency after a series of economic protests organized by Evo Morales, the current president of Bolivia. As head of the political party Movimento al Socialismo, or MAS, Morales had come in a near-tie for second place in the 2002 presidential election with Reyes.
The protests turned increasingly violent after Sánchez de Lozada announced his intent to allow multinational oil companies, including BP, to export Bolivian natural gas to Mexico and the United States through a port in Chile.
Another critic from the political left, Eric Ross, writing at Salon.com, noted: Sánchez de Lozada “had worked closely with the World Bank and IMF and had miles to go on behalf of international capitalism. He had aggressive neo-liberal plans. None of this would have been news to the boys from GCS. They made their choice knowingly. Never mind matters of conscience or principle.”
Ross pointed out that when Sánchez de Lozada came to power in 2002 “with the help of James Carville’s crew,” about 65 percent of Bolivians lived below the poverty line, even though the nation is resource-rich.
“Bolivian silver mines – especially Potosi – produced much of the wealth of the Spanish Empire and, indirectly, financed the rise of European capitalism,” Ross charged, arguing that the “lucrative tradition” was repeated by Sánchez de Lozada’s plan to allow multinational oil companies to export Bolivian natural gas.
“The kind of neoliberal policies which Sánchez de Lozada promoted – which Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Carville and Shrum endorsed by directing his campaign for the presidency – have only exacerbated the plight of millions of Bolivians who already lived in abject misery,” Ross concluded.
Boynton got extensive inside access to film the consulting efforts of GCS advisers Greenberg, Rosner and Carville in Bolivia, recording their focus group sessions as well as consulting sessions with Sánchez de Lozada during his 2002 campaign.
“Our Brand is Crisis” has received widespread critical acclaim for the cynical view exposed of public relations packaging of political candidates by consultancy firms such as Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and their GCS affiliate.
The documentary “opens a window onto a troubling trend: the export of high-tech, American political consultants to countries around the world,” wrote film critic Jason Silvermanin for Wired.com. “Making the most of what seems like unlimited access to Goni and his advisors, director Rachel Boynton paints a portrait of a cold-blooded political campaign that’s more responsive to polling data than to the real needs of citizens.”
Matt Stoller at My Direct Democracy, MYDD.com, wrote, “What is remarkable about the film is the behind-the-scenes look at how these guys operate. The firm is the Greenberg Carville Shrum group, and their cynicism and arrogance is laid bare as they use modern American marketing tools to play God in a country about which they clearly know nothing.”
In one of the film’s more memorable moments, Carville advises on camera, “A campaign is like intercourse – you never know when it’s going to peak.”
GCS principals continue to provide advice to the Obama administration.