By Mark Stevenson
MEXICO CITY — A video "mockumentary" that shows children as kidnappers, corrupt cops and drug traffickers sparked a fierce debate in violence-torn Mexico on Thursday, with some people calling it a needed wake-up call while others described it as political manipulation or even child abuse.
Kids playing the role of businessmen, criminals and corrupt officials are seen robbing, paying bribes and shooting it out in a mock Mexico made up entirely of children, all to the deceptively laid-back tune of the 1970s ballad "Una Manana," or "One Morning."
Produced by a foundation supported by private companies and universities and distributed over the Internet, the video ends with a direct message to the candidates in the Mexico's July 1 presidential race. A little girl faces the camera and says: "If this is the future that awaits me, I don't want it. Enough of working for your political parties instead of for us. Enough of cosmetic changes."
Dubbed "Ninos Incomodos," roughly "Discomforting Kids," the four-minute video opens with a pudgy kid-businessman waking up in the morning dragging on a cigarette, and closes with a kiddie-version of alleged drug lord Edgar Valdez, aka "La Barbie," being dragged off to an overcrowded jail full of moppets by kiddie cops.
Little girls carrying purses scream and scurry for cover as boys their own age spray machine guns from huge SUVs and assault-rifle toting little cops run to detain them at gunpoint.
Despite the video's grim images of knife-wielding, migrant-smuggling, gun-toting kids, all the major candidates had praise for it. Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called it "well done, it's tough but it's the truth."
Earlier, the candidate of the former governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, Enrique Pena Nieto, wrote in his Twitter account: "I support the message of Discomforting Kids. I hear it all the time on the campaign trail; that `time is running out.' It's time to renew hope and change Mexico. "
Josefina Vazquez Mota, the candidate of President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party, tweeted that "the video of Discomforting Kids is a call that can't be ignored. I accept the challenge, I want to join you."
Not everyone was happy, however.
The video's vision of a smog-choked, apocalyptic Mexico where kid cops crack down on tiny anti-corruption protesters while pint-sized lazy or corrupt politicians stand by is manipulative, and no candidate could afford to criticize it, TV critic and newspaper columnist Alvaro Cueva said.
"No sane candidate is going to say, `I want a future with crime, a future with criminals,'" Cueva said.
He called the video damaging and "a very clear violation of the (electoral) law."
It is a sensitive question in Mexico, where many people believe the 2006 elections were unfairly influenced by a series of privately produced and sponsored ads that sought to inspire fear of Lopez Obrador, warning Mexicans they could "lose everything" if he were elected. He narrowly lost to Calderon.
"The only thing this video does is to further muddy the election campaigns," Cueva said. "This video does nothing but foment a sense of desperation and despair."
While the 2006 "fear" ads against Lopez Obrador, sponsored by private business groups, benefited Calderon, Cueva thinks this year's fear-video benefits the presidential front-runner, Pena Nieto, whose PRI party has extensive machines in most states that could help him win in the event of a low voter turnout.
"When one watches this video, one loses any desire to vote, and so it foments a low turnout, and in an environment of low turnout, the winner is the PRI candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto," Cueva said.
Pena Nieto's campaign was not immediately available to comment.
Others, like former presidential spokesman and political analyst Ruben Aguilar, accepted the private group's arguments that the video is an attempt to make citizens think.
"In this country, everyone thinks the worst, and they can never accept that somebody is doing something good," Aguilar said. "I think it is good, it is intelligent and it can help."
The group that made the video, headed by Mexican insurance company GNP, took out full-page ads in Mexican newspapers saying it was merely reflecting the concerns of millions of citizens "who want to see themselves living in a Mexico that has left behind crime, corruption poverty, unemployment, drug trafficking."
But some objected to the video's use of children.
"It is unacceptable, scandalous, that they have shown children smoking, armed, kidnapping people with pistols and locking them in trunks," Labor Party congressman Mario di Costanzo said on the floor of Congress on Wednesday.
PRI congressman Miguel Angel Garcia Granados called on the Calderon administration to ban the video.
"We are not going to solve the big problems this country faces with sensationalism and shrillness, and certainly not by using underage children in documentaries," said Garcia Granados.
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