Here’s something to be thankful for this holiday season: Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is still hard at work from his home base in Santa Fe negotiating the release of international hostages, American servicemen and prisoners in rogue nations around the world.
His latest success was securing the release of journalist Danny Fenster from a Myanmar prison — again venturing into some of the most closed societies on Earth where he has persuaded strongmen and dictators to let people go — generally after what he describes as “respectful” conversations.
Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, had spent six months in jail and was sentenced last week to 11 years of hard labor after being convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information and also facing accusations of terrorism and treason. All for doing his job as a journalist.
“This is a day you hope will come when you do this work,” Richardson said in a statement emailed by his office. “We are so grateful Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time, against immense odds.”
It was Richardson who tilted those odds back in Fenster’s favor after reaching out previously for face-to-face negotiations with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s ruler.
It’s not the first time the former governor, U.N. Ambassador, Energy Secretary and presidential candidate has done this. Fenster, a Detroit-area native, joins a growing roster of people whose release Richardson has managed to secure over the years.
It’s a long list and resulted from Richardson’s meetings with rulers from Iraq to Sudan to Iran to North Korea. It’s not many people who successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein.
Richardson received some criticism from human rights groups for his initial visit to the general in Myanmar, a visit Richardson described as “humanitarian.” But he knows how to keep his eye on the ball. “I plead guilty to photo-ops and getting human beings rescued.”
Just a few of the notable releases cited on the Richardson Center website include Laura Ling, held by North Korea, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas, and journalist Paul Salopek and two of his colleagues held by the government of Sudan.
The Santa Fe-based center’s mission statement says it aggressively pursues “the safe and humanitarian release of people throughout the world, including journalists, prisoners of conscience and others who are unfairly detained.”
And it does so “at the request of the families of those being held, free of charge.”
In a world with no shortage of bad news, Bill Richardson deserves a big “thank you” for this work.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.