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  • Abrams, assistant secretary of state during the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, was convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal.

    Abrams, assistant secretary of state during the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, was convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. | Photo: Reuters

Published 13 February 2019

The Democratic lawmaker questioned the ability and moral integrity of Elliott Abrams, recently appointed special envoy to Venezuela.

Newly-elected Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, during a hearing on Venezuela on Wednesday, said she "failed to understand" why the American people should believe Special Envoy Elliott Abrams' interests in Venezuela, after his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, and the internal conflict in Central America during the Reagan administration.

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Omar, who was elected for the first time to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, first evoked the Iran-Contra scandal, before saying: “I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.”

She then evoked El Mozote massacre, in which U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers killed over 800 civilians in 1981, when the internal conflict was raging — a conflict which Abrams later called a “fabulous achievement.”

“Yes or no,” Omar asked Abrams. “Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement, that happened under our watch?”

Responding it was “ridiculous question,” Abrams said, “I’m not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question.”

During the Reagan administration, Abrams assured military aid to the Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who came to power after a coup in 1982 and was later sentenced for genocide against the Mayan peoples in the Central American country. He was also convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. However, he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

“Yes or no,” Omar continued. “Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, if you believe they were serving U.S. interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua?” 

“I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, and so I will not reply,” said Abrams repeatedly during the conversation, until Omar asked him if he will guarantee the respect of human rights in Venezuela.

"The answer is that the entire thrust of American policy in Venezuela is to support the Venezuelan people’s effort to restore democracy to their country," he said. "That’s our policy."

Abrams was also one of the masterminds behind the 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

A neoconservative who has long advocated an interventionist U.S. role in the world, Abrams last served in government in the George W. Bush White House, first as a Middle East expert on the National Security Council and later as a global democracy strategy adviser. During that time, he “gave a nod to the attempted Venezuelan coup,” according to The Guardian.

Venezuelan plotters reportedly visited the White House several times, including Pedro Carmona, who acted as de facto president for the 47 the coup lasted, for months before the attempt. The U.S. government rushed to recognize the new government of Carmona, but their efforts were defeated by the Venezuelan revolution.

On Jan. 23, Guaido declared himself the acting president of Venezuela, with support from the U.S., the Organization of American States’ Luis Almagro and right-wing Latin American countries, pushing other governments to recognize him.


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