- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador doubled down Tuesday on his controversial proposal to consider amnesty for criminals as he registered to seek the leftist Morena party’s nomination for Mexico’s July 1 election for president.

As the front-runner in election polls, he is assured to win his party’s nomination, though the two-time contender has already attracted skepticism by mentioning the possibility of amnesty as a way to rein in Mexico’s violence, which has reached record highs.

Lopez Obrador showed no inclination to back away. “We will debate and consult, mainly with victims, the possibility of amnesties for criminals who opt for re-adapting themselves,” he said.

Critics have said such amnesties don’t work and encourage gangs to be violent.

Lopez Obrador, who lost by thin margins in the 2006 and 2012 presidential elections, also proposed creating a joint military-police force and calling it the National Guard.

“The National Guard will be created to reorganize and integrate all the military and police bodies,” he said.

Human rights groups have questioned the current practice of using Mexican soldiers and marines in police roles for which they have not been trained.

But critics have also questioned the lack of a coherent anti-crime strategy in Mexico. Current President Enrique Pena Nieto introduced a new police force based on the French model and known as “gendarmes” who have had little concrete effect in fighting crime. Lopez Obrador’s proposal for a National Guard appears to invoke comparisons to the U.S. military force, which is sometimes used in domestic situations like riots or disasters.

Lopez Obrador also proposed moving most federal government offices out of Mexico City to cities in outlying states, to combat the country’s centuries-old problem of centralization of power, money and population in the capital.

He proposed building more oil refineries to reduce Mexico’s dependence on U.S. plants and called for boosting agriculture to make Mexico self-dependent in basic foodstuffs. The country currently imports much of its feed grains, meat and other products from the United States.

Lopez Obrador also proposes giving all Mexican retirees and elderly a $63 monthly payment to help them buy food, a policy he implemented when mayor of Mexico City for residents of the capital. Other states have adopted similar plans, but Lopez Obrador would raise the amount and make it nationwide.

Unveiling the slogan “Scholars, not killers,” he also said there is a need for scholarships and university access for millions of young people who currently aren’t studying or working and are sometimes recruited by drug gangs”

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