Friday, April 13, 2012

Examining the Origins of Mexico’s Child ‘Drug War’ Video

A video that uses children to act out some of Mexico’s most serious social problems -- corruption, express kidnapping, poverty, migration, and drug violence -- is reportedly backed by one of the country’s richest men.

The four-minute video, “ Discomforting Children,” tracks a child bureaucrat as he goes about his day. He smokes a cigarette and scans the day’s headlines about rising violence. He steps outside his apartment and is promptly mugged by two other youths, who are later seen handing over the stolen goods to a smirking cop. As the video continues, we see the main character give a briefcase full of money to another child in a suit, implied to be a powerful public official. The video touches upon some of other Mexico’s social ills, at one point showing a violent protest on the street, and a truck full of migrants in the countryside. It ends with a kidnapping, a gun battle (although no blood or deaths are shown),and the arrest of a drug trafficker, whom the Associated Press describes as “a kiddie-version of alleged drug lord Edgar Valdez, aka ‘La Barbie.’”

As a monologue at the end of the video makes clear, it is directed at Mexico’s presidential candidates. All have already responded: Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted “I support the message of ‘Discomforting Kids,’” while National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota called the video, “a call that can’t be ignored.” Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said it was “well done, it’s tough but it’s the truth.” Such positions are unsurprising: as the AP’s analysis points out, none of the candidates could afford to criticize the video, for risk of appearing dismissive of the very real social problems that it depicts.

After being uploaded on April 9, the video had 2.5 million views on Youtube as of April 13. The video was released by Our Mexico of the Future (Nuestro Mexico del Futuro), a group that describes itself as a “social movement without precedent across the nation.” A list of the group’s sponsors appears at the bottom of the web page.

According Mexico media, including columnists from major newspapers like Milenio and Cronica, as well as investigative magazine Proceso, one of the group’s main backers is Alberto Bailleres, Mexico’s fourth-wealthiest man. Bailleres owns the concession to the world’s largest silver mine, Proceso reports. He was the previous owner of Mexico’s largest beverage company, which was sold to Heineken without the proper payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

That such a major business interest is reportedly linked to the video’s production may raise fears that Mexico’s powerful, conservative business sector will release videos during the 2012 campaign season, with the purpose of influencing election results. During the 2006 election, in which Lopez Obrador narrowly lost to Felipe Calderon, private business groups backed several videos depicting a Mexico in chaos. The implied message was that this was Mexico’s future, should Lopez Obrador win the presidency. Lopez Obrador supporters later argued that these “fear-mongering” videos scared voters into voting for Calderon.

The monologue given by a young girl near the end of the “Discomforting Children” video addresses all four presidential candidates. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the video depicts massive street protests as a social ill that Mexico must confront, alongside the corruption and drug violence presented in the mini-film. One banner held by the child protesters reads “No to Evaluation” (at 1.46), a slogan associated with Mexico’s teachers union, which has held several strikes against an evaluation system they say is unfair.

On the surface, this may be among the most innocuous scenes in the video, but perhaps it is among the most significant. Is the implied message that the workers’ unions who cause dissent are an undesirable future for Mexico, on par with continued drug-related violence? The video has already been criticized in Mexico for its usage of child actors. That may be the least problematic thing about it.

News Briefs

  • Another controversial video is causing trouble to Mexico, after ruling party the PAN released a campaign ad calling rival candidate Enrique Peña Nieto “a liar,” reports the AP. The video possibly violates Mexico’s law against negative political campaigning, and Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI, says they plan to file a complaint with the national electoral commission. Meanwhile, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is trying to sell his appeal to the private business interests who strongly opposed his 2006 presidential campaign, reports the LA Times. The newspaper has another broad look at the political campaign season in Mexico, noting that so far, none of the candidates are inspiring much passionate support. This will probably result in low turnout come July 1, the LA Times argues.
  • Peruvian rebel group the Shining Path reportedly fired upon a helicopter conducting a search for the 40 gas workers kidnapped Monday, reports the AP. One police officer died during the attack.
  • A vaccination campaign against cholera has kicked off in Haiti, reports the New York Times. It is the end of a long debate among world health authorities, some of whom argued against the usage of the vaccine during the island’s 2010-2011 cholera epidemic, citing cost and logistical concerns.
  • Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roger Noriega writes in Foreign Policy that should President Hugo Chavez die, Venezuela will turn into a “narco-state.” Noriega cites unnamed sources who told him that some of Chavez’s key supporters, including former military officer Diosdado Cabello who was recently named leader of the ruling party, “are far more likely to resort to unconstitutional measures and repression if they can count on support from Moscow and Beijing.”
  • Argentina may nationalize its largest oil company, which currently has many of its shares controlled by a Spanish energy firm. The move could put raise significant tensions between the two countries, notes the New York Times. More from the Wall Street Journal.
  • Plaza Publica reports that Guatemala President Otto Perez, who is urging that regional leaders discuss the transformation of drug policy during the Summit of the Americas, did not previously discuss his proposal with his political team.
  • The Economist reports on the continuation of student-led protests in Santiago, Chile, stating that “Political leaders are wondering if they are seeing a popular rebellion against “the model”, as some call the free-market policies bequeathed by Pinochet and left largely intact by his successors.”