MEXICO CITY, Mexico — A young boy with gelled hair, sporting a suit and looking stressed, puffs a cigarette. He’s later robbed at gunpoint, by two boys in hooded sweatshirts. The mini criminals make a run for it, but a police car cuts them off.
To avoid arrest, the thieves must hand over the stolen goods to a crooked cop — another boy, smiling fiendishly from inside his squad car.
Dark irony and movie-quality production characterize “Niños Incomodos,” roughly "Discomforting Children," a video that is stirring debate and controversy in Mexico, ahead of the July 1 presidential election. Niños Incomodos has caught fire on social networks, netting hundreds of thousands of views.
A group called Nuestro Mexico del Futuro (Our Mexico of the Future) released the video last week. It features 8- to 12-year-old actors who replicate problems that regular Mexicans face daily, according to the group, which describes itself as “a social movement,” and is backed by several large national companies.
Violence in Mexico has spiked since President Felipe Calderon deployed troops to combat drug cartels in late 2006. Since then, about 50,000 people have been killed, according to government statistics. Another 5,000 have disappeared. Extortion and kidnappings also keep Mexicans angry and afraid.
As they become more web savvy, they are increasingly sounding off their frustrations online — and sometimes their woes go viral. The Nuestro Futuro website claims the group has collected almost 11 million visions of a better future from people across the country.
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The video had 2.7 million views on YouTube earlier in the week. After that was removed, reposted versions are heating up again.
The instant popularity of the slick internet campaign has hints of the “Kony 2012” video released last month by the San Diego-based group Invisible Children.
But unlike the record-setting Kony video — which advocated overseas intervention to stop alleged war criminal Joseph Kony — this campaign sticks to Mexico’s domestic issues. Its vignettes address crime and the future of youth growing up in a violent world, but offer no direct policy prescriptions.
“The principal intention of this project is to spark conversations in favor of our country, and conversations of reflection and conscience towards a change that we should have,” said Nuestro Mexico del Futuro spokeswoman Monica Mejia.
“A video is not going to change a country, obviously. However, this is an important first step to provoke change.”
But critics have branded the group a mouthpiece of political and business interests. “The campaign Nuestro Mexico del Futuro is just another maneuver by the right-wing business class to favor a ‘reforms agenda’ to serve the private sector,” wrote the alternative news site Pulso Ciudadano.
Mejia stresses that her group is completely non-partisan. Yet, with a general election coming on July 1, the video attacks politics head on.
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In a concluding scene, a young girl directly addresses the presidential candidates. “If this is the future that awaits me, I don’t want it,” she says. “Enough of working for your political parties and not for us.”
The main candidates endorsed the campaign via their social networks. “I accept your challenge, I want to join you,” tweeted Josefina Vasquez Mota, of the ruling National Action Party, who trails second in the polls.
“It’s time to revive hope and change Mexico,” frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), wrote on his Twitter account.
Not everyone shares the same sentiments. Lawmaker Miguel Angel Garcia Granados was one of several PRI politicians to denounce the tactics. “The use of kids like this, in such horrible scenes [of violence] is regrettable,” he said on a popular news show.
Others in parliament said that the video should be taken down for similar reasons.
Some 7 million youth in Mexico are what’s known as “ni nis” — shortened from “ni trabajan, ni estudian” (neither work nor study), according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Many argue that this demographic remains especially vulnerable to recruitment by gangs or the drug cartels.
Ruth Villanueva is director of psychology with FUNDEC, a Mexico City-based foundation that promotes children’s rights. She agrees that vulnerable youth and better security for people of all ages remain extremely important issues across Mexico. But she disagrees with the underlying message of the campaign.
“The image the video presents is fatalistic and overly negative,” Villanueva said. “And, they are missing a very important aspect — they don’t propose any solutions.”
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Villanueva argues that using kids to paint a morbid picture of the country doesn’t solve anything.
“I think the video would have been more impactful if it had offered a solution,” Villanueva said. “For me, the most important thing is keeping kids in school. … But what does this [video] propose, that we don’t vote? That’s not a solution.”
Most young voters are expected to choose that solution. Some 75 percent of young voters said they plan to abstain in the upcoming election, according to a recent study by Autonomous University of Mexico. The study also suggests 44 percent are “not at all interested” in the political race.
Next, the group plans to create a book that it will give to all candidates before elections that reflects hundreds of thousands of interviews conducted with regular citizens around the country who want to see positive change.
On their website, interviews with the child actors give some idea of what sentiments this book may contain.
Asked what they would want in a Mexico of the future, a girl who plays a migrant says: “That this all goes away: the killings, the drugs, the guns.”
A boy who kidnaps a motorist at gunpoint adds, “I’d like to live in a Mexico that is safe, with no corruption, and with improved education."