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Public Relations: It's the real thing

By ALEX OGLE
Issue: August 31, 2005
Honduras This Week

The soft drink giant Coca-Cola kicked off the huge "+ en positivo " campaign on August 10.

Luz Maria Sabillon, Coca-Cola manager in Honduras, announced that the initiative would improve the lives of many young Hondurans.

Sabillon declared Coca-Cola's aim was to make Honduras a "Country of Optimism in 2006."

Coca-Cola representatives presented their project for the company and country amid an ominously ambient scene of twisting lights and smoke machines at the Chiminike Interactive Learning Center in Tegucigalpa.

Sabillon stated that the campaign was "without precedent," adding that Coca-Cola wanted to "share with the adolescents our idea that a positive attitude makes the difference."

Several corporate executives were joined at the launch by Honduran President Ricardo Maduro, and ex- president of Columbia, Caesar Gaviria.

The campaign seeks to obtain a million positive declarations from Hondurans. The goal is being met through the work of 1000 Coca-Cola PR activists and the placement of signature note pads in restaurants, malls, arcades and meeting places across the country.

The corporation has pledged to "build one sports-meeting-arts center for every 100,000 optimistic messages we can get."

A Coca-Cola spokesperson stated that "the amount of money being invested is very significant," but also noted that the investment was not more important than the goal of declaring Honduras as a "Country of Optimism."

In reality, Coca-Cola spends $2.6 billion dollars a year in advertising.

According to the Stop Killer Coke campaign director Ray Rogers, such money is spent to create an image that has nothing to do with the reality of the corporation.

"The world of Coca-Cola is a world full of lies, deception, immorality, corruption and widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses," said Rogers.

"When Hondurans think of Coca-Cola," he continued, " they should think of a company that has brought not optimism but hardship and despair to many people and communities throughout the world. When they think of Coke soft drinks, they should think of them as the sparkle of death, and therefore unthinkable and undrinkable."

The Stop Killer Coke campaign has succeeded in recent years in bringing attention to Coca-Cola practices around the world, in a large part through its website www.killercoke.org. Eight universities in the US, and eight in the UK and Canada have thrown Coca Cola products off their campus in protest.

Their struggle has brought the charges of continued human rights abuses and environmental pollution around the world to the corporation's doorstep.

In a message to Hondurans experiencing the new "positive" Coca-Cola campaign, Rogers said "Coke will steal your water, pollute your environment, ruin the health of your children and try to enslave the fathers and mothers who produce and distribute its soft drinks."

Across "Country of Optimism in 2006" paraphenalia, penned in youthful, hip Spanish to display how the corporation is down with the kids, it is written "Coca Cola wants us to catch its good vibe."

The advertising campaign is set to continue for many months. Honduras may even find itself with a number of new "sports-meeting-arts-centers" as a gift from Coca-Cola.

The first in the line of many music events sponsored by Coca-Cola will take place on August 26, with a free concert in San Pedro Sula headed by popular reggaetton artists Wisisn y Yandel and Hector el Bambino who will also be joined by the Honduran reggaetton artists.

But the campaigns in more economically developed countries which attempt to dispel the myth of the altruistic, benevolent corporation will also continue to run.

The stumbling block for projects such as Stop Killer Coke that are attaining levels of success in the West may lie in the difficulty to infiltrate and organize in less socially-conscious nations where governments do not tolerate dissidence towards powerful corporations.

Rogers stated, "Coca-Cola is a big backer of President George W. Bush's foreign policy in Central America, which supports governments and political leaders willing to suppress the masses in order to promote American corporate and military interests."

After the ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement two weeks ago, which the Coca-Cola Corporation vigorously supported, it may prove to be even harder to confront the company in Central America itself. It remains a priority for these projects to concentrate on protest in the streets and school campuses of the West to affect change in other parts of the world.

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"Coca Cola wants us to catch its good vibe"

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