Google+

Trump, Cruz aides advised Guatemalan candidate vowing televised executions

Exclusive: Tim Clark and Ron Nehring, running California campaigns for Trump and Cruz respectively, advised rightwing tycoon Manuel Baldzons campaign

The two men hired by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to spearhead their presidential campaigns in California are, for the moment, rivals in what could be the most important primary race of 2016.

But four years ago, Tim Clark and Ron Nehring, who are running the California campaigns for Trump and Cruz respectively, worked as paid advisers to a campaign to elect a Guatemalan presidential candidate whose platform included a call for public executions.

Clark and Nehring, the Guardian can reveal, spent six weeks in Guatemala in 2011 working as advisers to Manuel Baldzon, a rightwing populist and business tycoon who campaigned on the promise of broadcasting the executions of criminals on TV.

The pair of Republican political consultants, now at the helm of competing presidential campaigns in California, were paid to advise Baldzon by what Clark elliptically refers to as business interests.

Clark confirmed the pairs involvement in the Guatemalan campaign during a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian.

Ron called and asked me to come down. He had the contact, Clark said. Hey Clark, I could use a little help down here. What do you think?

We had bodyguards. We had translators. We drove around in a black SUV full of semi-automatic machine guns in the back.

It was interesting, Clark said of the experience. Glad I came out alive.

Baldzons political career in Guatemala has long been linked to unsavory patronage a concern that InsightCrime, a group that investigates organized crime in the Americas, reports is fueled by his refusal to disclose the identity of the private donors who bankroll his campaigns.

Dr Michael Allison, a Latin America expert and associate professor of political science at the University of Scranton, said Baldzon had faced questions over campaign finance improprieties.

As a candidate in 2011, Baldzon ran on a platform where he promised to make use of televised executions, he said, describing him as a populist who promised everything to everybody. He promised to get the countrys national soccer team to qualify for the World Cup.

Baldzon has never been charged with a crime and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

Clark said he and Nehring met with Baldzon and advised his campaign, traveling the country with him and attending rallies. But Clark said they were a step removed because their work was paid for by corporate interests and they were not formally part of the campaign.

In many ways it felt like you were the shiny object in the room: Oh, the American strategists are here. But Ron did a really good job of helping set him [Baldzon] on message, I felt, he said.

While Nehring took care of political messaging around free-market issues, Clark said, his role was to assist Ron, to run the metrics, to look at it, to see where and what and how.

Following the interview, Clark emailed the Guardian a statement playing down their work for Baldzon. He stressed that he and Nehring were not in any way privy to all of the campaigns media and messaging strategies.

Working under Rons umbrella, our role was specifically advising, where possible, on free market, economic growth policies, he wrote. If our time there was made to look more than this, it would be a completely inaccurate portrayal of our activities.

Clark also said in the email that he did not know about Baldzons campaign promise of televising executions even though it was widely reported in the international media as well as the Guatemalan press.

I am unaware of his platform regarding public safety, he said.

Tim
Tim Clark, Donald Trumps California campaign manager. Photograph: Max Whittaker for the Guardian

Guatemala is not known as a clean place to make money from politics.

Last year, an investigation by a UN-backed anti-impunity organization exposed the widespread infiltration in Guatemalan politics by criminal groups and business interests seeking political favors and public contracts.

Guatemalan political parties receive half their financing through corruption, according to the report published in July 2015 by CICIG. Guatemala is the perfect country to commit electoral crimes without consequences, said director of CICIG Ivan Velasquez Gomez at the time.

During the 2011 general election campaign, political parties spent at least $56m more than they declared, according to an inquiry by Citizen Action, the Guatemalan chapter of Transparency International.

Baldzons Lider party spent almost three times the amount legally allowed in the 2011 campaign that Clark and Nehring worked on, Citizen Action concluded.

Clark declined to identify the Guatemalan business interests that paid for their trips, saying only that they were corporate industry guys who could afford it.

In another followup email, Clark added: Any indication whatsoever that either Ron or I had any knowledge or connection in any way with anyone other than legitimate and legal business interests in Guatemala would be grossly inaccurate.

Neither Clark nor Nehring mention their work for Baldzon on their company websites although both make references to having worked in Guatemala.

Nehring, a regular guest on CNN, states on his website that he has been a volunteer expert lecturer and trainer for government officials and politicians in Guatemala, Bosnia, Serbia, Morocco, Egypt and Iraq. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment about his paid work with Clark in Guatemala.

Although Clark and Nehring are now on opposite sides of a presidential race, they have been close associates for several years.

I dont think he wants to talk to me and I dont want to talk to him right now, Clark said during the interview. Its not out of animosity, its just out of respect.

Clark said that he was shocked by the economic inequality he saw in Guatemala and in a departure from Trumps foreign policy said the US should play a more proactive role in the region. I think America should invest in our neighbors to the south, but thats just me, not my candidate, he said.

You drive through dirt floor, no bathroom neighborhoods, you look and you see kids playing, and you think, how? he said, recounting his experience of inequality in Guatemala. Then half a mile down the road you drive in past the gate and theres this palatial thing, and you think, what is this, how can someone have all this, just next to all that?.

Baldzons net worth is not known. However, the tycoon is known to have business interests in gas stations, hotel chains, buses, mining, media companies and health clinics, giving him enormous power in Guatemala.

An investigation published just last week by the investigative news magazine Contrapoder accused Baldzon of profiting from $10m (79m Quetzales) of public funds by manipulating government works contracts. He denied the allegations.

Despite the hired help of Clark and Nehring, the businessman ultimately lost the 2011 election to retired military officer Otto Fernando Molina.

Baldzon ran again for the presidency last year and was considered the outright frontrunner until his popularity nose-dived amid anger over corruption in the political establishment.

He resigned from his political party in September. The following month, Jimmy Morales, a TV comedian with no political experience, was elected president of Guatemala. Morales has been described as Guatemalas version of Donald Trump.

As it happens, Clark said he was also offered a role in the Morales campaign too.

I had my friends call, he said. Tim, you want to come and work for the comedian? Nah, Im OK. Ive been there once.

Clark added: But it was funny. Guatemala elected a comedian as their president.

About the Author

Leave a Comment:

Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy | Copyright Notice | Anti Spam Policy | Earnings Disclaimer | Health Disclaimers | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy