- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Vicente Fox and the Rev. Jesse Jackson agreed yesterday to work together to unite blacks and Hispanics in the United States two days after Mr. Fox expressed regret for saying Mexicans were working U.S. jobs that not even blacks would take.

In a press conference after their meeting, Mr. Jackson said Mr. Fox again expressed regret for any offense caused by Friday’s comment, which Mr. Jackson had described earlier as “at best, insensitive.”

Mr. Fox “now realizes the harmful effects of it,” Mr. Jackson said. “He seeks to correct it by reaching out.”

Mr. Jackson said the statement was a chance for minority groups in the United States to begin working together to fight for better treatment and wages.

“It was offensive and inaccurate, but it was a diversion from the bigger struggle of workers’ rights,” he said.

Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez, who appeared at the press conference on behalf of Mr. Fox, said the meeting had turned the dispute into a chance to ease the sometimes tense relations between blacks and Hispanics in the United States.

“We made clear that this government is a government that has fought for human rights,” he said.

Mr. Fox missed the press conference because he had to leave for a trip to northern Mexico.

Mr. Jackson had called on Mr. Fox to issue a public apology, and Mr. Fox said Monday during a phone conversation with Mr. Jackson that he was sorry for “any hurt feelings caused by my statements,” according to a statement released by Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department.

Late Tuesday, Assistant Foreign Secretary Patricia Olamendi echoed that sentiment, saying: “If anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government.”

But in a continuing sign of confusion, Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said yesterday that Mrs. Olamendi was speaking on behalf of herself, not the government. Mr. Aguilar has insisted that Mr. Fox’s comments were misinterpreted.

Mr. Derbez also said Mrs. Olamendi’s comments were her personal opinion, but he praised and thanked her for being a leader in the fight against discrimination.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Monday called Mr. Fox’s remark “very insensitive and inappropriate.”

The next day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Mr. Fox “made a public statement regretting his comments, and I think he’s addressed the matter.”

Mr. Jackson criticized President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for not personally criticizing Mr. Fox’s comments.

The dispute was the latest row between Mexico and the United States, and reflected Mexicans’ frustration with the failure of the U.S. government to approve a migration accord touted by Mr. Bush.

Many Mexicans did not see Mr. 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.

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