Veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson, known for high-stakes negotiations, passes away at 75
Bill Richardson, a prominent figure in US politics known for his daring diplomacy and tireless efforts to free detained Americans worldwide, has died at the age of 75, according to statements from his associates on Saturday.
The former US ambassador to the United Nations, who also served as the governor of New Mexico and the US energy secretary, peacefully passed away in his sleep on Friday night, as confirmed by the Richardson Center for Global Engagement.
Richardson, celebrated as one of the highest-profile Latinos in American politics, gained recognition as the “Indiana Jones” of US diplomacy for his fearless face-offs with authoritarian leaders on the US pariah list. Notably, he engaged in direct negotiations with Iraq’s late President Saddam Hussein, Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro, and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.
In a pivotal moment in 1995, Richardson personally brokered a deal with Saddam Hussein to secure the release of two American aerospace employees who had inadvertently crossed into Iraq from Kuwait. More recently, he played a key role in the successful efforts to secure the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison in December, following her conviction on a drug offense.
A statement released by the Richardson Center emphasized Richardson’s lifelong commitment to serving others, both during his time in government and his subsequent career devoted to freeing individuals wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad.
Gabe Vasquez, a Democratic member of Congress from New Mexico, paid tribute to Richardson, describing him as a titan in both New Mexico and the broader political landscape. “Governor Bill Richardson was a titan in New Mexico and abroad… one of the most powerful Hispanics in politics that this nation has seen,” Vasquez remarked.
While some US officials privately expressed frustrations with Richardson’s independent activism, fearing it could undermine official efforts, the Richardson Center emphasized that he was willing to engage with anyone if it offered the promise of returning someone to freedom.
Born on November 15, 1947, Richardson, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father, initially pursued a career in baseball, drafted as a pitcher by the Kansas City Royals. When his sports career didn’t materialize, he earned a Master’s degree at Tufts University’s prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Richardson made history by becoming the first Latino to run for the US presidency, briefly entering the Democratic primaries in 2007, a process that ultimately led to Barack Obama becoming the party’s candidate. Although he initially supported Obama, Richardson withdrew his name from consideration as commerce secretary in 2009 due to a federal investigation into campaign finance matters.
Throughout his career, Richardson was known as a diplomatic gunslinger, achieving several notable successes in freeing hostages and prisoners held abroad, while also facing criticism from human rights activists who accused him of lending legitimacy to unsavory regimes. In response, Richardson emphasized his commitment to making a positive difference, stating, “I don’t legitimize governments; I’m just one person trying to make a difference.”