SAN DIEGO - Criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement as the means for practicing ''toxic violence'' on the U.S.-Mexico border, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader said the trade policy should be repealed.
During several campaign stops in San Diego on Tuesday, Nader said NAFTA has led to violence along the boarder, destroyed the environment and is harmful to people in both the United States and Mexico.
''We need to get out of NAFTA and renegotiate trade agreements with the countries involved,'' Nader said of the 1993 trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Nader, who is making his first ''official'' run for the presidency this year, dismissed claims that his candidacy will pull votes from either GOP candidate George W. Bush or Democratic candidate Al Gore.
''No candidate - Al Gore, George W. Bush or myself - is entitled to votes, we all have to earn them,'' Nader said.
While he accused Bush and Gore of becoming beholden to corporate influence, Nader he said he hasn't caved into corporate pressure in his 35 years of consumer advocacy.
In terms of his chances of winning the presidency, Nader cited the example of Jesse Ventura, a third-party candidate with scant support in the polls who surprised pundits by being elected governor of Minnesota in 1998.
''What do you think, I'm running to lose?'' Nader said.
The Green Party is growing in terms of influence on the political process and among registered voters, particularly among college-aged voters, he said.
''We're building a majority party here, but that can't be done in one day. Just like an acorn doesn't become an oak tree in one day,'' he said.
Nader began his San Diego campaigning by meeting with staff members at the Environmental Health Coalition, a non-profit group working for environmental improvements in the border communities.
Later in the day, Nader was to speak at a rally for reforming electricity deregulation in California.
Before the rally, Nader said he tried to warn Californians that electricity deregulation would not work and rates would rise, as they have, instead of fall as predicted.
In San Diego, the first city in California to feel the effects of subjecting customers to free market prices for electricity, rates have doubled and even quadrupled in the last two months.
Nader proposed that the California government rollback electricity rates and re-regulate the energy industry. San Diego customers should also be refunded the money they've been charged since deregulation took effect, he said.