Ecuador has hired a Florida public relations firm run by President Barack Obama‘s former Hispanic media director to try to improve the country’s image as it faces the twin blows of the coronavirus epidemic and a global loss of confidence.
Ecuador’s Center for Strategic Intelligence retained Balsera Communications effective June 3 to develop “communications strategies and tactics to counter the perception of an Ecuador besieged by the coronavirus and lacking a cohesive response.” The firm was founded by political consultant Alfredo “Freddy” Balsera, who notably worked on Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
Balsera himself is registered as a foreign agent on the account along with firm president David Duckenfield and director of special projects Julio Ligorria. Duckenfield served as deputy assistant secretary of State for Public Affairs under Obama.
They are expected to work with the Center for Strategic Intelligence, President Lenin Moreno‘s communications secretariat and the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington on “crisis and reputational management” pertaining to the Covid-19 crisis. The contract runs until August 15.
Balsera’s scope of work includes:
- Developing and executing an engagement strategy with think tanks and other relevant nongovernmental thought leaders in the U.S.;
- Monitoring media concerning Ecuador and preparing appropriate reactions when necessary;
- Key message development around Ecuador’s response to Covid-19 and other relevant achievements by the Government;
- Managing overall media relations and story pitching;
- Assisting with relevant content creation related to media engagement;
- Conducting interview prepping and analysis of administration spokespeople.
“[Balsera will] develop communications strategies and tactics to counter the perception of an Ecuador besieged by the coronavirus and lacking a cohesive response.”Scope of work document
Balsera Communications and the Ecuadorean Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. The firm was paid $37,500 for work conducted in May, according to a receipt attached to its lobbying filing.
The public relations push comes as the Andean nation faces the worst coronavirus crisis of any developing nation. The official death toll stands at 3,600 in a country of 17 million, but the Financial Times estimates from mortality data that the real total could be five times higher.
The widespread perception that the government’s response to the epidemic has been incompetent was formed early on by reports of bodies left rotting for days in the streets of Guayaquil. The reputational shock comes as Ecuador is in the midst of trying to renegotiate easier terms on $17.7 billion in bonds with private creditors and on $12.3 billion in loans from multilateral lenders including the International Monetary Fund, the Financial Times reports.
The crisis has also devastated the country’s tourism sector, notably in the Galapagos Islands where all hotel reservations have been cancelled through July. The front page of the embassy’s web site invites tourists to reschedule rather than cancel their travel plans.
The setback comes after Moreno met with President Donald Trump in February, the first Ecuadorean leader to visit the White House in nearly two decades amid an improvement in ties following the departure of leftist leader Rafael Correa in 2017. Foreign Minister Jose Valencia at the time touted the meeting as “the culmination of a rebirth and reinforcement of the relationship of our country with an important economic and commercial partner.”
Update: This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. on June 18 with new information about the individuals registered on the account.