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ELECTIONS-LATAM: Brains Behind Dirty Campaigns Go Global

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Jul 31 2007 (IPS) - Consulting firms notorious for orchestrating aggressive attacks on opponents in electoral campaigns, especially in Mexico and the United States, have been much in demand in Latin America in recent years.

In a highly competitive and lucrative market, political consulting offices are exporting aggressive strategies and dirty tricks to parties on both the right and the left in South and Central America. They often obtain remarkable results, for instance winning a country’s presidency.

José Adolfo Ibinarriaga and Roberto Trad, founding partners of the Cuarto de Guerra (War Room) firm in Mexico – which advised current Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in his 2006 campaign – defend the work done by foreign consultants.

“An outside view is refreshing for a candidate, because a consultant isn’t looking for business opportunities or a political post in a country that isn’t his or her own. My advice is as politically objective as it can possibly be, because I’m not a political player,” Ibinarriaga told IPS.

In Mexico, Antonio Solá from Spain, who has ties to Spain’s rightwing opposition Popular Party, and Dick Morris of the U.S., ex-consultant to former President Bill Clinton (1993-2001), advised current president Felipe Calderón during the tense electoral campaign in 2006 that led to his victory.

Solá and Morris – who in 1996 resigned from the Clinton reelection campaign after his own affair with a prostitute, who revealed private White House information, came to light – have been identified as the people behind Calderón’s smear campaign against his opponent Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was the candidate of the leftwing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

Their strategies were based on creating negative messages about rival candidates, for instance “López Obrador is a danger to Mexico,” a phrase which summarises the attacks waged on the narrowly beaten opponent.

In Honduras, another U.S. consultant, Mark Klugmann, was former conservative presidential candidate Porfirio Lobo’s campaign guru. Klugmann was a speechwriter for former Presidents Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and George H. W. Bush (1989-1993), and a presidential adviser to Mireya Moscoso (1999-2004) of Panama and Francisco Flores (1999-2004) of El Salvador.

The press in Guatemala reported this month that Klugmann is close to rightwing candidate Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriot Party, whose campaign is similar to that of Lobo in Honduras, and is based on a “mano dura” (iron fist) approach towards crime.

Carlos Lugo, a political scientist at the Iberoamerican University, acknowledges that consulting firms have been successful, but criticises them for seeking “only the satisfaction of power, for the candidates and the groups they advise.”

These consultants behave like speculative capital, moving from one country to another in search of profits, Lugo told IPS. “When they leave, (the politicians) don’t know what to do. They are like emissaries, going from one place to another.”

Two U.S. institutions, the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and the Inter-American Political Management Centre, have trained dozens of consultants who scour the Americas for electoral markets where they can apply their skills.

The Miami-based Inter-American Political Management Centre has 72 associates, including Morris. Among his clients were former Argentine President Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001) and former Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle (2000-2005), whose terms were marred by the worst economic and social crises in their countries’ history.

Both institutions have been accused of helping candidates friendly to the United States win elections. “These schools do not have a formal international political imperative. Informal channels may exist, and it may be legitimate to think” that there is a pro-U.S. bias, said Cuarto de Guerra’s Trad.

In Guatemala, Cuban-born U.S. consultant Mario Elgarresta, who worked for former Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños (2002-2007), is keeping a low profile as consultant to centre-right politician Álvaro Colom, the favourite for the September presidential elections.

Also in Guatemala, the candidate for the coalition Encuentro por Guatemala (Encounter for Guatemala), indigenous Nobel Peace prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú, was unable to reach a financial agreement for the services of the Cuarto de Guerra consulting firm.

Menchú visited Mexico in March and met with Ibinarriaga and Trad, who paid a return visit to explore the terrain. But Menchu’s coalition could not afford Cuarto de Guerra’s estimated fee of 200,000 dollars.

The new mayor-elect of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, has as his main adviser Ecuadorean Jaime Durán, who in 2000 contributed to the victory of former President Vicente Fox of Mexico, which ended seven decades of Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule.

Durán, an assiduous participant in seminars at the Graduate School of Political Management, has extensive experience in Latin American politics. In 2006 he advised Calderón, and before that he had advised López Obrador during his campaign for mayor of Mexico City, a post he occupied from 2000 to 2005.

In Lugo’s view, these experts in political marketing apply the same strategy, with modifications depending on the country where they are working. “They have a clear idea of what the culture of each society is, and its weak points,” he said.

Trad and Ibinarriaga say they are “ideology-free marketeers.” “We don’t play around with the candidates’ ideology, we just handle political communications. We have to understand the culture and customs of the places where we go to communicate a campaign. Synergy is about being able to adjust that communication to the local culture,” they say.

Between November 2005 and December 2006 there were 12 presidential elections in Latin America, and this year there will be two, in Guatemala and Argentina, which indicates the size of the regional market for consulting firms. Each contract can be worth up to one million dollars.

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