View Full Version : Mexico's Fox Apologizes for Black Comment

05-16-2005, 10:14 PM

Mexico's Fox Apologizes for Black Comment

By TRACI CARL, Associated Press Writer
15 minutes ago

MEXICO CITY - President
Vicente Fox reversed course Monday and apologized for saying that Mexicans in the United States do the work that blacks won't.

Despite growing criticism that included a stern U.S. response, Fox had repeatedly refused to back away from the comments he made Friday, saying his remark had been misinterpreted.

But in telephone conversations with the
Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev.
Al Sharpton, the president said he "regretted" the statement.

"The president regretted any hurt feelings his statements may have caused," the Foreign Relations Department said in a press statement. "He expressed the great respect he and his administration has for the African-American community in the United States."

Jackson told Fox that he was sure the president had no racist intent, and suggested the two meet to discuss joint strategies between blacks and immigrant groups in the United States, Aguilar said.

Fox agreed to set up a visit to Mexico by Jackson, Sharpton and a group of American black leaders.

Despite Fox's latest comment, many Mexicans — stung by a new U.S. crackdown on illegal immigrants — didn't see the remark as offensive. Blackface comedy is still considered funny here and many people hand out nicknames based on skin color.

"The president was just telling the truth," said Celedonio Gonzalez, a 35-year-old carpenter who worked illegally in Dallas for six months in 2001. "Mexicans go to the United States because they have to. Blacks want to earn better wages, and the Mexican — because he is illegal — takes what they pay him."

Earlier Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Fox's comments were in defense of Mexican migrants as they come under attack by new U.S. immigration measures that include a wall along the Mexico-California border, and were not meant to offend anybody.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City had raised the issue with the Mexican government. "That's a very insensitive and inappropriate way to phrase this and we would hope that (the Mexicans) would clarify the remarks," Boucher said.

Lisa Catanzarite, a sociologist at Washington State University, disputed Fox's assertion. She said there is intense competition for lucrative working class jobs like construction and that employers usually prefer to hire immigrants who don't know their rights.

"What Vicente Fox called a willingness to work ... translates into extreme exploitability," she said.

Fox made the comment Friday during a public appearance in Puerto Vallarta, saying: "There's no doubt that Mexican men and women — full of dignity, willpower and a capacity for work — are doing the work that not even blacks want to do in the United States."

The issue reflected Fox's growing frustration with U.S. immigration policy and deteriorating relations between the two nations.

The Mexican government was expected to send a diplomatic letter to the United States on Monday protesting recent measures that include requiring states to verify that people who apply for a driver's license are in the country legally, making it harder for migrants to gain amnesty, and overriding environmental laws to build a barrier along the California border with Mexico.

The measures have been widely criticized in Mexico, where residents increasingly see the United States as adopting anti-migrant policies.

Even Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the archbishop of Mexico City, criticized the U.S. policy as ridiculous and defended Fox's comments, saying: "The declaration had nothing to do with racism. It is a reality in the United States that anyone can prove."

Gilberto Rincon, president of the National Council to Prevent Discrimination, said the statement was "unfortunate." But, speaking after releasing a report on racism in Mexico, he said it reflected outdated language more than a racist attitude.

Fox has championed the rights of minorities and the disabled and has led a successful campaign to amend the constitution to make discrimination a crime.

While Mexico has a few, isolated black communities, the population is dominated by descendants of the country's Spanish colonizers and its native Indians. Comments that would generally be considered openly racist in the United States generate little attention here.

One afternoon television program regularly features a comedian in blackface chasing actresses in skimpy outfits, while an advertisement for a small, chocolate pastry called the "negrito" — the little black man — shows a white boy sprouting an afro as he eats the sweet. Many people hand out nicknames based on skin color.

Victor Hugo Flores, a 30-year-old bond salesman, cringed when asked what he thought of Fox's comment, but said it isn't too different from popular sayings celebrating what Mexicans see as a strong work ethic among blacks.

"It was bad, but it really isn't racist," he said. "Maybe the president shouldn't have said it. But here we say things like, 'He works like a black person,' and it's normal."