The Honduran government will pay controversial U.S.-based public relations firm Ketchum close to US$500,000 over the next year to give its embattled government a makeover after a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal sparked months of popular protests calling for the president's resignation.
The PR firm has been embroiled in multiple controversies in the U.S., ranging from corporate espionage to employing “covert propaganda” against the public, a violation of U.S. federal law.
Ketchum will provide crisis management and reputation improvement services and report to President Juan Hernandez's sister Hilda Hernandez, who currently serves as Honduras’ minister of strategy communications, according to an announcement made Wednesday.
Hernandez's National Party siphoned off US$90 million out of US$200 million embezzled from the country's social security institute to help fund the party's 2013 election campaign in which the conservative politician narrowly defeated left-wing challenger Xiomara Castro, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was removed in a military coup in 2009.
The public relations firm has been embroiled in multiple controversies in the United States, ranging from corporate espionage to employing “covert propaganda” against the public, a violation of U.S. federal law.
RELATED: In Depth – Central America Rising
In 2003, the George W. Bush Administration paid Ketchum US$700,000 to promote "No Child Left Behind" through a series of fake news videos. The public relations company also diverted US$240,000 of taxpayer money to prominent, Black conservative pundit Armstrong Williams to also shill for the contentious education reform. Ketchum also used similar propaganda tactics in 2005 to promote Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program, which the U.S. Government Accountability Office classified as “covert propaganda” because the company didn’t disclose that the video “news” releases were government funded.
Then, Greenpeace filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 against Dow Chemical client Ketchum for hiring former executives at a private security firm to spy on the environmental group from 1998 to 2000, and to perform a range of "clandestine and unlawful" actions, including trespassing and stealing documents, in order to undermine the group’s anti-pollution efforts against the chemical industry.
What remains unknown is whether Ketchum, which also represents the biotech industry to promote genetically modified organisms, will employ similar tactics against the Honduran public to help give the country’s widely unpopular government an image makeover.
RELATED: Disaster Capitalism and Outrage in Post-Coup Honduras