Child Protection Groups Cry Foul After Campaign Video In Mexico Features Indigenous Boy

Jan 25, 2018
Originally published on January 26, 2018 11:45 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to Mexico and a song that has gone viral. It's a campaign spot for a political party featuring a baby-faced indigenous boy joyfully belting out upbeat lyrics over and over and over. The video has been viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube. But opposition parties and child protection groups are crying foul, accusing politicians of exploiting Mexico's indigenous people. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports this is the latest chapter in an electoral season that's on track to be one of the most contentious in recent memory.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's really a catchy tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVIMIENTO NARANJA")

YUAWI LOPEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Not much in the lyrics department. There's one line about the future being in your hands with a vote for the orange-colored Citizens' Movement party and a lot of this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVIMIENTO NARANJA")

YUAWI: (Singing) Na-na-na-na-na na na na. Na-na-na-na-na na na na. Na-na-na-na-na (ph).

KAHN: Nine-year-old Yuawi Lopez in the traditional dress of his Huichol tribe belts out the tune with the highlands of his native Jalisco state in the background.

YUAWI: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Reached by phone, Lopez says he loves to sing and is excited about his newfound fame. But not everyone is. Children's rights groups say the boy is being exploited for political means. And the Morena party, whose candidate is leading polls in this summer's presidential race, called on election regulators to pull the song from the airwaves, saying it endangers the higher interests of childhood. Yuawi's father, Jose Lopez Robles, says those denouncing him are hypocrites.

JOSE LOPEZ ROBLES: (Through interpreter) Why are they so worried about a child who's showing off his talent and yet they aren't worried about all the children who live in the streets without a mother or father who cares for them? Why?

KAHN: Mexico's National Electoral Institute sided with Yuawi's father, ruling the boy had parental permission to appear in the ads. But Juan Martin Perez Garcia, who heads the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico, insists Yuawi is being treated like a mascot by the political party.

JUAN MARTIN PEREZ GARCIA: (Through interpreter) They have not put forth any proposals to attend to the problems facing indigenous people. They haven't participated in any initiatives to protect children's rights. It's clear that all they are doing is using this boy unethically.

KAHN: Perez says the National Electoral Institute's ruling was a narrow and administrative interpretation of the law, and it has failed its responsibilities to ensure a fair and honest election. This isn't the first nor the last criticism electoral regulators will receive before voters go to the polls on July 1.

JESUS CANTU ESCALANTE: I think this is going to be one of the most problematic elections that we're going to lead in Mexico.

KAHN: Reached by Skype, Jesus Cantu Escalante is a political scientist at the Technological de Monterrey University. He says public confidence in election regulators has dropped dramatically as they failed to curb unethical and outright illegal practices - he says everything from flaunting spending limits to vote buying.

CANTU: They feel empowerment. And they are going to push the limits to the extreme. And even in some cases they are going to go beyond that to win in that way the election.

KAHN: Cantu points to recent local elections as cause for concern. In two state governors' races, regulators found huge amounts of unregulated money was spent, so much in one state regulators ruled the votes should be annulled. But Mexico's highest electoral court, reportedly packed with the current president's party appointees, rejected the findings twice. Kenneth Greene, who studies Mexican elections at the University of Texas at Austin, says recent budget cuts to the Electoral Institute is cause for concern. And, he says over Skype, so is the firing of an electoral crimes prosecutor who was investigating President Pena Nieto's previous campaign funding practices.

KENNETH GREENE: The judicial system's ability to investigate and sanction electoral malfeasance has been weakened.

KAHN: There's still a little more than six months until voters go to the polls. But Luis Alberto Chalico, a software engineer waiting by a Mexico City Metro stop, says he's not looking forward to them. Recent polls show more than a quarter of likely voters are undecided.

LUIS ALBERTO CHALICO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "There aren't that many good candidates to choose from," he says. "Guess it will come down to who's the least worst." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.