MEXICO CITY – A top government official moved beyond President Vicente Fox's (search) expression of regret and issued a public apology late Tuesday for the Mexican leader's comments about American blacks.
The statement came a day after Fox expressed regret in telephone conversations with the Revs. Al Sharpton (search) and Jesse Jackson, but his government refused to go further.
Fox angered both the U.S. government and black Americans when he said Friday that Mexican immigrants take jobs "not even" blacks want in the United States.
"If anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government," Assistant Foreign Secretary Patricia Olamendi (search) said Tuesday night.
Facing international criticism, Fox told the U.S. civil rights leaders that he regretted "any hurt feelings caused by my statements" and invited them to Mexico for talks to improve the sometimes tense relationship between blacks and Hispanics in the United States.
Jackson flew to Mexico Tuesday night and was scheduled to meet with Fox early Wednesday in Mexico City, officials said.
Earlier Tuesday, Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar repeatedly said that the dispute already was resolved and brushed aside questions from reporters who pushed him to clarify whether Fox's statement was intended as an apology.
"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," Aguilar said.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan 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.
On Monday, 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, the Fox spokesman, said Mexico had received no formal complaint from the State Department.
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 promoted by President Bush.
Fox's administration sent a diplomatic letter Monday that protested new U.S. immigration policies that opened the way for an extension of a border wall along the California-Mexico frontier and required states to check that migrants are in the United States legally before issuing them U.S. driver's licenses.
Deputy Foreign Relations Secretary Geronimo Gutierrez was following up on the protest letter with personal visits Tuesday in Washington. Gutierrez was also expected to meet soon with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza.
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.
"This is an exaggeration," said Manuel Espino, leader of the conservative National Action Party. "There have been a lot harsher comments that come from north of the border, and we don't scream and shout about it."
Even Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the archbishop of Mexico City, 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."
While Mexico has a few, isolated black communities, the population is predominantly descended from Spanish colonizers and native Indians.