MEXICO CITY – Felipe Calderon on Friday took sides in the battle over immigration, blasting a U.S. congressional plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border while endorsing a U.S. Senate proposal that would offer a route to legal citizenship for millions of undocumented Mexicans living in the United States.

“The solution for migration is not to build walls,” he said.

Calderon also called for a joint development fund among Mexico, the United States and Canada that would finance public works construction in poor areas of Mexico.

“A kilometer of highway in Zacatecas or Michoacan can do more to reduce migration than 10 kilometers of wall in Texas or Arizona,” he said.

He also ruled out reopening the agriculture provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994. Instead, he pledged a new government program focused on helping farmers hurt by imported U.S. corn.

Calderon’s comments to foreign reporters were his first since the completion Thursday of the official ballot count that showed him the winner by a slim 0.58 percentage point. His leftist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has promised to challenge the result. Calderon had met with Mexican reporters on Wednesday.

But Calderon appeared as confident in his victory as if he had won the election by a landslide. In addition to criticizing proposals for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, he rapped China for its human rights record and promised an aggressive foreign policy that would push Mexico into a leadership role in the Western Hemisphere.

He said a ballot-by-ballot recount demanded by Lopez Obrador was unnecessary and predicted that the Federal Electoral Tribunal would quickly validate his win.

He made a point of bolstering his democratic credentials, pointing out that his National Action Party, or PAN, fought for decades to make Mexico democratic when it was ruled for 71 years by the oft-corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

And he questioned his opponent’s democratic pedigree, noting that Lopez Obrador’s campaign coordinator, Manuel Camacho Solis, held the same job in 1988 for the PRI when it was largely seen as having stolen the presidential election from the founder of Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.

“Let me remind you that I was fighting for democracy when my political adversaries were fighting against democracy,” Calderon said.

Calderon will be only the second Mexican president not affiliated with the PRI since the 1920s. In 2000, the current president, Vicente Fox, also a PAN member, became the first. For the first time, the PAN will also control the largest number of seats in Congress, though not a majority.

But Calderon said he would quickly reach out to small splinter parties and the PRI to build a majority.

Usually described as aloof, Calderon went out of his way to appear charming. Before answering questions for about an hour, he walked through the crowded conference room at a Mexico City hotel and shook each reporter’s hand.

He said his foreign policy would respect the rights of countries to choose their own form of government but would stress such universal principles as civil liberty.

When asked by a Chinese correspondent about bilateral relations, Calderon noted China’s rapid growth and large population as an opportunity for Mexican exports. But he then issued a cloaked call for greater human rights in China: “I hope that one day, there will vigilance around the world on human rights.”

Calderon’s apparent victory ends the streak of Latin American elections that put left-leaning governments in office. Mexico joins Colombia as the only other Latin nation with a conservative government, and Calderon said he’d work hard to bridge ideological differences and forge closer relations with neighbors in the hemisphere.

A key reason for Calderon’s apparent win was his attack ads on Lopez Obrador, which compared him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a vocal U.S. critic. Calderon smiled broadly when a Venezuelan TV correspondent asked about Venezuela’s vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, who labeled Mexico’s election results as “suspicious.”

“I’m sorry to have disappointed them by winning,” he said.

Mexico’s relationship with Cuba was severely strained under Fox, who joined the United States in criticizing the lack of civil liberties on the island nation. Calderon said he’d seek a constructive relationship with Cuba because it would be in the interest of Mexicans. But he also took a backhanded jab as Castro by noting that “before I was even born, he was in power.”


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