Posted on May 20, 2005

Sharpton Demands Apology from Fox

El Universal (Mexico City), May 20

The U.S. civil rights leader says the president has yet to apologize to blacks for a comment he made this week.

U.S. civil rights leader Al Sharpton said Thursday that Mexico’s president still needs to apologize for saying Mexicans take jobs in the United States that “not even” blacks will do.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Sharpton said he wasn’t satisfied with the contradictory expressions of regret issued by the administration of Vicente Fox this week. He said he would seek an “unequivocal, formal” apology during a meeting with Fox on Monday in Mexico City.

The president’s spokesman, Rubén Aguilar, has characterized the comment, made May 13 during a visit to Puerto Vallarta, as a misunderstanding. His office refused to comment on Sharpton’s demand Thursday.

The closest the administration has come to apologizing was when Assistant Foreign Secretary Patricia Olamendi said Tuesday that “if anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government.” But the next day Aguilar said Olamendi was speaking on behalf of herself not the government.

“I don’t think we’ve heard a formal apology from him,” Sharpton said of Fox. “I think we’ve heard some regrets. I think we need an unequivocal apology. This was an unequivocal insult.”

Jesse Jackson, another civil rights leader, said after meeting with Fox on Wednesday that while he was still angered by the Mexican president’s comment, he felt Fox “realizes the harmful effects of it” and was trying to correct his mistake.

The two agreed to work together to bring together blacks and Hispanics, two groups who have clashed in their fight for equal rights and respect within U.S. society.

Sharpton brushed aside that pledge, saying that before seeking coalitions between minority groups in the United States, he wanted to have “a real discussion about race” with Fox.

“Things have been boiling under the surface for awhile and they need to be discussed, and frankly he can do that,” he said.

He said illegal migrants in the United States millions of whom are Mexican are working for low wages and no benefits, taking jobs from other minority groups who are in the United States legally.

“We also need to deal with the fact that there has been an inordinate amount of tension where people have come across the border for almost slave wages, competing with Latinos and blacks,” Sharpton said. “It’s almost like a 21st century slave trade.”

Fox made the comment in defense of Mexican migrants after U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill making it harder for illegal migrants to get U.S. drivers licenses and clearing the way to extend walls along the California-Mexico border.

Mexico has several small, isolated black communities but the population is dominated by people of mixed Spanish and Indian descent. People with Indian features face widespread discrimination, something Fox has spoken out against since his election in 2000.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher initially criticized Fox’s comment, saying Monday it was “very insensitive and inappropriate.” But White House press secretary Scott McClellan later said Fox had “addressed the matter.”