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Stereotypes must be broken, president tells Mexicans

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 6:21 p.m.
REUTERS
Members of the audience wave and take photos of U.S. President Barack Obama after he delivered a speech at the Anthropology Museum during his visit to Mexico City May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (MEXICO - Tags: POLITICS)

MEXICO CITY — Calling for an end to “old stereotypes,” President Obama on Friday portrayed Mexico as an emerging nation that is remaking itself and said the U.S.-Mexico relationship should be defined by shared prosperity, not by threats both countries face. “It's time to recognize new realities,” he declared.

In a speech to a predominantly student audience, Obama said that the root of much violence in Mexico is the demand for drugs in the United States, and acknowledged that most guns used to commit crime in this country come from north of the border. But he said an improving economy is changing Mexico.

“I see it in the deepening of Mexico's democracy, citizens who are standing up and saying that violence and impunity is not acceptable,” Obama told several hundred people gathered on a cool, breezy morning in a covered, outdoor plaza at Mexico City's grand National Museum of Anthropology.

Obama said he is optimistic that the United States would change its patchwork of immigration laws. The issue resonates deeply in Mexico, which has seen deportations of its citizens from the United States rise dramatically under Obama.

Underlying Obama's visit was his desire to persuade the U.S. public and lawmakers that Mexico no longer poses the illegal immigration threat it once did.

“The long-term solution to the challenge of illegal immigration is a growing and prosperous Mexico that creates more jobs and opportunities for young people here,” said Obama.

To that end, he called for improving the growing trade relationship between the two countries. Mexico is the second-largest export market for U.S. goods and services. The United States also buys more Mexican exports than any other country. Still, the reality of Mexico's economic surge is perhaps not as rosy as Obama portrayed it.

While Mexico's economy has grown, it has yet to trickle down to average workers. Huge poverty rates held steady between late 2006 and 2010, the most recent year for which government statistics are available. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of the population of 112 million Mexicans live in poverty, earning less than $100 a month.

Obama also cited Mexico's healthy manufacturing sector as an example of the country's “impressive progress,” with new factories turning out TVs and automobiles for foreign markets. Some of that growth is because of the fact that wages largely have stagnated while China's have risen, making Mexico more of a low-wage paradise.

Mexico's economy grew by about 1 percent in the first quarter, but the country isn't adding anywhere near the million annually it needs to employ all the youths entering its workforce.

Obama spoke on the second day of his Mexico City visit, peppering his remarks with Spanish phrases, including that he was “entre amigos” or “among friends.”

After the speech, he headed to Costa Rica for a two-day trip.

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