The Rev. Jesse Jackson traveled to Mexico for a Wednesday meeting with President Vicente Fox in a bid to quash tensions following an inflammatory comment by the Mexican leader about American blacks.
Jackson arrived in Mexico on Tuesday, the same day Mexico’s Assistant Foreign Secretary, Patricia Olamendi, issued a formal apology for the president’s remark that Mexicans take jobs that “not even” blacks want in the United States. Olamendi said: “If anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government.”
Speaking to reporters at the Mexico City airport, Jackson said Fox “has expressed public regret and remorse ... he now realizes the gravity of the statement he made and the harmful ramifications.”
Jackson: Focus on 'building a coalition'
Jackson refused to predict whether Fox would offer a personal, formal apology in a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning, and stressed “we must keep working on building a coalition” between blacks and Mexicans in the United States.
Earlier, Jackson had said “we cannot let the forces of greed manipulate blacks and browns into confrontation.”
Fox angered both the U.S. government and black Americans when he said Friday that Mexicans take jobs “not even” blacks want in the United States.
Facing international criticism, Fox spoke by phone Monday with Jackson and Al Sharpton, another prominent black civil rights leader, and expressed regret for “any hurt feelings caused by my statements.”
Fox invited Jackson and Sharpton to Mexico for talks aimed at improving the sometimes tense relationship between blacks and Hispanics in the United States. Officials said Sharpton would probably visit Mexico later in the week.
U.S.: Matter resolved
White House press secretary Scott McClellan on Tuesday said the matter appeared to be closed.
“President Fox made a public statement regretting his comments, and I think he’s addressed the matter,” he said.
Fox’s spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said repeatedly that the dispute was resolved.
“In no case had there been a racist attitude on the president’s part with that statement, but instead it was about defending the rights of Mexicans to a dignified life and to respectful treatment from the United States,” Aguilar said at a news conference Tuesday.
On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Fox’s remark “very insensitive and inappropriate” and said the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City had raised the issue with the Mexican government. Aguilar said Mexico had received no formal complaint from the State Department.
Aguilar brushed aside repeated questions from reporters who pushed him to clarify whether Fox was sorry.
“From the point of view of the president, the misinterpretation has been clarified with the affirmation by the president, with his repeated demonstrations of absolute respect for minorities, whatever their race, their ethnicity, their religion,” he said.
The dispute was the latest row with Mexico’s northern neighbor and reflected Mexicans’ frustration with the failure of the U.S. government to approve a migration accord widely touted by President Bush.
Fox’s administration sent a diplomatic letter Monday that protested new U.S. immigration policies clearing the way for an extension of a border wall along the California-Mexico border and requiring states to check that migrants are legal before giving them U.S. driver’s licenses.
Deputy Foreign Relations Secretary Geronimo Gutierrez was following up with personal visits Tuesday in Washington.
Gutierrez was also expected to meet soon with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, who has been criticized by Mexico for issuing tourist warnings about increasing drug violence in Mexico and for comments he made on the management of Mexico’s economy.
Many Mexicans did not see Fox’s remark about blacks as offensive. Blackface comedy, while demeaning to many Americans, is still considered funny here and many people are given nicknames based on skin color.