AIM’s Clyde Bellecourt meeting former President Nelson Mandela in November 2000
MINNEAPOLIS — As the world continues to mourn the loss of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, American Indian Movement leader Clyde Bellecourt remembers meeting Mandela when he visited downtown Minneapolis in November 20 – 21, 2000.
Mandela passed away on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at the age of 95. He was buried on Sunday.
During Mandela’s visit to America, the U.S. presidential election was still in limbo due to the close vote in Florida.
President Bill Clinton was to leave the presidency two months later in January 2001. American Indians and others were hopeful President Clinton would grant imprisoned Leonard Peltier a presidential pardon before he left office. At the time of Manela’s visit to Minneapolis, Bellecourt was one such American Indian leader who still felt President Clinton would free Peltier.
As a resident of the Twin Cities area, Bellecourt decided to go to the hotel where Mandela was staying and plead the cause on behalf of Peltier.
Bellecourt reflected on his brief meeting with Mandela with the Native News Online last week:
“I found out what hotel he was staying, so I went downtown to see him. There was security all around him, and he saw me. Security attempted to keep me away from him, but he motioned for them to let me through.
He asked me, ‘Who are you, warrior?’ I told him my name and my involvement with the American Indian Movement. I told him I wanted to talk to him about Leonard Peltier. who is a prisoner of war like he had been. He told me to come to his press conference in the morning and that he would talk to me then.
So, I went to the press conference the next day. I got a press pass from a friend of mine who ran a local black newspaper. During the press conference, a reporter asked Mandela to comment on the presidential election. Mandela told the reporter he would not comment on domestic issues of the United States.
As he finished, I approached Mandela again. Again, the security wanted to stop me from talking to him. He waved them off and said I told him to come see me today.
I told him I wanted him to talk to President Clinton, who he was going to see before he left the country, to pardon Peltier.
I told Mandela, when they were saying ‘Free Mandela, there were those saying ‘Free Peltier.’ I explained that Peltier is a political prisoner of war just as he had been a political prisoner of war.
He told me he was aware of Peltier’s situation and he would talk to President Clinton about it.
I never talked to Mandela again, so I really don’t know if he ever said anything to President Clinton. As we know now, Clinton pardoned a bunch of his wealthy friends, and Leonard is still in prison.”