Bill Richardson, a veteran Democratic politician and former US ambassador to the United Nations who later spent decades negotiating the release of imprisoned Americans around the world, has died at the age of 75, his aides said Saturday.
Richardson, who also served as governor of New Mexico and U.S. Secretary of Energy, passed away peacefully in his sleep Friday night, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement said in a statement.
Richardson was one of the most prominent Latinos in the American political world.
He made a name for himself as the “Indiana Jones” of American diplomacy and was known for his daring encounters with strong leaders on the American pariah list, including the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the Venezuelan Nicolas Maduro. .
More recently, he was involved in efforts leading to the release of American basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison in December after she was convicted of a drug offense.
The statement from the Richardson Center said: “He lived his entire life in the service of others – including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people who were held hostage or wrongly held abroad.”
– ‘A Titan’ –
Gabe Vasquez, a Democratic congressman from New Mexico, was among those who paid tribute to their late colleague and mentor.
“Governor Bill Richardson was a titan in New Mexico and beyond…one of the most powerful Hispanics in politics this country has ever seen,” Vasquez said on the platform now called X.
Privately, US officials suggested more than once that they were frustrated with Richardson’s freelance activism, expressing concern that it could undermine official efforts.
But as the Richardson Center said in its statement, “There was not a person that Governor Richardson would not speak to if it included a promise to return someone to freedom.”
– Diplomatic Marksman –
Born on November 15, 1947, Richardson showed an early flair for baseball and was drafted as a pitcher by the Kansas City Royals.
When a professional career in sports fell through, Richardson earned a master’s degree from Tufts University’s prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Richardson was the first Latino to run for the U.S. presidency, with a cursory attempt at the 2007 Democratic primary — a process that eventually landed Barack Obama as the party’s nominee.
Richardson supported Obama, but eventually withdrew his name as Secretary of Commerce when a federal campaign finance investigation derailed his nomination in 2009.
Over the years, Richardson developed a reputation as a diplomatic marksman.
He had several notable successes in freeing hostages or prisoners held abroad, but also some setbacks.
His work with authoritarian figures has at times drawn criticism from rights activists who have accused him of providing legitimacy to unsavory regimes.
“I don’t legitimize governments,” Richardson once told AFP. “I’m just one person trying to make a difference.”