The focus of relations between Mexico and the United States should shift from crime-fighting and border security to economic development and job creation, Mexican presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador said here Tuesday.

"Cooperation for development is more effective and humane than the emphasis on military assistance, intelligence services and armaments," the former Mexico City mayor said in a speech at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center.

Lopez Obrador, of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, narrowly lost Mexico's 2006 presidential election to conservative Felipe Calderon and is seeking to represent his party again in the 2012 contest.

"More than 50,000 Mexicans have died in the so-called war on drugs," he said Tuesday, referring to the toll from nearly five years of Calderon's militarized approach to the struggle with organized crime.

"The violence is the result of the neoliberal policy, plus the poor management of the economy plus corruption," Lopez Obrador said. "Mexico is the biggest exporter of labor, a country with a rate of unemployment and underemployment of 21 percent, and where 67 percent of workers receive salaries that don't exceed $13 a day."

He said that since 1983, when Mexico began to adopt "neoliberal" measures such as privatization and trade liberalization, the country's per capita gross domestic product has grown by a meager 0.4 percent annually.

Lopez Obrador, whose main rival for the PRD presidential nomination is current Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, said that if elected, his priorities would include achieving "food sovereignty" and increasing the number of Mexico's oil refineries from six to 11.

Mexico, a major producer and exporter of petroleum, depends on imports to meet its need for gasoline and diesel, a situation Lopez Obrador likened to that of a country that grows oranges, "but buys the juice from other people."

The combative politico said his country's most pressing need is to confront pervasive, entrenched corruption.

"Without battling corruption there will be no effective development policy," he said, asserting that reducing bureaucracy, implementing progressive taxation and curbing graft would free up $60 billion a year - 6 percent of Mexico's GDP - for investment in economic development.

Turning to the touchy issue of immigration, Lopez Obrador urged President Barack Obama to "keep his (2008) campaign promise and regularize the situation of Mexican immigrants" in the United States.

"Development and job creation should come first" in the search for solutions to drug violence and illegal immigration, the Mexican said. "It is not with military assistance ... nor with more weapons that those problems will be resolved. It is not with a wall that the border will be secured." 

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