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Story highlights

Mexico's president responds to Trump calling Mexicans "rapists" by saying Trump generalizes

Mexico supportive of extraditing to the U.S. cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman

CNN —  

Mexico’s president said Sunday that there is “no way” his country would ever pay for a wall between it and the United States.

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Enrique Peña Nieto shot down Donald Trump’s campaign promise that he’s going to build a wall and Mexico will foot the bill.

Peña Nieto stressed that economic and social prosperity on both sides of the border relies on a firm relationship between Mexico and the United States.

“We also have to bear in mind that the security of the United States is linked with the security of its neighboring countries,” he said. “And this is what we have built. And I’ll say it again, this is what we have been doing with the U.S. government. We have a relationship of coordination, of collaboration and of cooperation in the area of security, precisely in order to have security in Mexico, to have security in the U.S. and … we are journey companions. We are strategic partners working for security in North America.”

“There is no way that Mexico can pay [for] a wall like that,” he said.

Zakaria asked the Mexican president how he felt about the presumptive Republican nominee’s characterization of Mexicans.

Border crossing

In New York in June 2015, while announcing his run for president, Trump said: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

“I cannot agree with such a generalization for Mexicans,” said Peña Nieto. “There is no way to agree with comments like these which describe all Mexicans in such a way.”

There are criminals in every country, the leader said, and “we need to fight and apply the full extent of the law” in bringing those people to justice.

But Mexico and the United States are “largely integrated” with one another.

“Not many people know, for instance, that every single day, 1 million people cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. and they do it legally – every single day – one million people cross the border from the U.S. into Mexico and from Mexico into the U.S.,” the President said.

Democratic process

Commerce between the nations is critical, he said. More than 370,000 trucks and cars cross the borders.

While there has been intense rhetoric used during the presidential campaigns about immigration, the Pew Research Center has found that over the past decade Mexican migration to the United States has slowed dramatically.

From 1965 to 2015, more than 16 million Mexicans migrated to the United States in one of the largest mass migrations in modern history, according to Pew. But over the past decade, Mexican migration has slowed dramatically. Today, Mexico increasingly serves as a land bridge for Central American immigrants traveling to the United States.

Pew reports that more Mexicans left than came to the United States since the end of the Great Recession. Between 2009 and 2014, 870,000 Mexican nationals left Mexico to come to America, down from the 2.9 million who left Mexico between 1995 and 2000.

Peña Nieto stressed that he is “respectful on the democratic process” taking place in the United States now as the country elects its next president.

“I believe that any of the candidates, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, I’m sure that both of them would like to build good conditions and better wellness for their people,” he said. “We are very respectful to whomever is elected. We want to build a positive and constructive relation among Mexico and to whomever becomes president of United States.”

A relationship tested by ‘El Chapo’

Relations between Mexico and the United States have faced strain over the drug war, in particular the hunt, capture and repeated escapes of kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

The notorious Sinaloa cartel boss has been a wanted man on both sides of the border for years. In Brooklyn, he and other cartel leaders were indicted in 2009 on charges of conspiring to import more than 264,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States between 1990 and 2005, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The traffickers also are accused of sharing drug transportation routes and obtaining their drugs from various Colombian drug organizations.

The indictments allege Guzman and others cartel bosses employed “sicarios,” or hit men, to carry out hundreds of acts of violence in Mexico, including murders, kidnappings, tortures and violent collections of drug debts, according to federal prosecutors.

Mexico intends to extradite Guzman and is working on a process to make that happen, said Peña Nieto. Guzman’s lawyers are appealing a May ruling ordering the transfer.

Zakaria asked how the president thinks Guzman managed to escape prison in Mexico.

In 2001, Guzman broke out of a maximum-security prison by reportedly hiding in a laundry cart.

In 2015, he escaped again through a prison shower which led into a vast underground tunnel.

He was recaptured in January 2016 in his native Sinaloa state after a shootout that killed six of his people. Actor Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo had traveled to Mexico last October to interview Guzman for a story that appeared in Rolling Stone. Before the public knew about the interview, two U.S. law enforcement officials said the tracking of cell phones and electronic exchanges of people close to Guzman led to his recapture.

Mexican authorities said they got Guzman partly because his representatives contacted filmmakers and actors about making a biopic of his life.

Peña Nieto said he didn’t know how the cartel leader escaped in 2015. “Anything that I would say would be pure speculation,” he said. “But what matters to me is that he is in prison. What matters to me is to know that we recaptured him. In a three-year span, we captured him once and we captured him again.”

He said that the government is investigating who might have helped Guzman.

Zakaria asked Peña Nieto whether he envisioned the battle against the drug cartels lessening in the next several years.

“I don’t know if these battles will ever come to an end,” the president answered. “But what I can tell you is that this administration has been able to revert the growing trend of insecurity that our country had in 2012. The number of malicious crimes such as murders, kidnappings and extortions have come down.”

Peña Nieto acknowledged that “some regions” in Mexico continue to face security problems.

“But in general terms, I would say that, yes, Mexico has seen progress [in fighting drug cartels],” the President said. “Yes, we have provided more security to our people, but we still have to keep fighting in this arena.”

Ray Sanchez, Nick Valencia and Evan Perez contributed to this report.