Cold Warrior Elliott Abrams returns to battle in Venezuela

The US has chosen a prominent warmonger to promote ‘democracy’ in Venezuela.

Elliott Abrams
US Special Envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, speaks during a media availability at the State Department on February 7, 2019, in Washington [File: Alex Brandon/AP]

Shortly after right-wing figure Juan Guaido auto-proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela in January – to the immediate applause of US President Donald Trump – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the appointment of a special envoy to “help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country”, that is to get rid of legitimate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro once and for all.

The envoy is neo-con extraordinaire Elliott Abrams, praised by Pompeo as a “seasoned, principled, and tough-minded foreign policy veteran”, whose “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition” to the State Department team.

“Veteran”, at least, is an accurate description. Abrams indeed boasts a long career of shady political exploits in Latin America undertaken on behalf of the American government.

US ‘mercenaries’

While serving in the administration of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Abrams was a star of that Cold War period known as the Iran-Contra affair, during which the US illegally sold weapons to Iran and funnelled the proceeds to right-wing Contra forces busily terrorising Nicaragua.

Abrams was even convicted for his role in the affair, but was later pardoned by George HW Bush.

In her war memoir Blood on the Border, US scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz recalls Abrams’s lofty prediction that “when history is written the Contras will be folk heroes”.

But the Contras were responsible for setting off a decade-long war that killed an estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans, and thus understandably aren’t recalled as “folk heroes” by anyone but a hardcore group of delusional neocons.

Under Reagan, incidentally, Abrams held such posts as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs. After his pardon, he went on to serve the George W Bush administration as, inter alia, senior director for democracy, human rights, and international affairs at the National Security Council.

Yet, despite these upbeat titles – and the rumour of Abrams’s passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples” – the aim of his foreign policy career has in fact been to thwart human rights and democracy in accordance with the US economic designs.

And his performance in Nicaragua is but one item on a long and sordid CV that decisively obliterates any possibility of an Abrams-assisted “restoration of democracy” in Venezuela.

Genocide and other ‘fabulous achievements’

For example, in El Salvador, where the Reagan government laboured valiantly on behalf of the rights and liberties of a vicious right-wing military and related death squads in a conflict that ultimately killed some 70,000 Salvadorans, Abrams memorably denied the infamous December 1981 massacre at El Mozote of more than 800 people by the US-trained and equipped Atlacatl battalion.

A Jacobin Magazine article commemorating the massacre notes that it boasted the participation of characters like a Salvadoran major who “walked over, scooped a little boy from a crowd of kids, flung him into the air, and speared him with a bayonet as he came back down”.

Human rights, indeed.

Abrams would later laud the Reagan administration’s “record” on El Salvador as “one of fabulous achievement”.

And the list goes on.

In 1983, Abrams insisted that US-backed Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt had “brought considerable progress” in the field of human rights. This was the same Rios Montt, of course, who was convicted of genocide for his role in a war that killed or disappeared more than 200,000 Guatemalans. The genocide conviction was subsequently overturned, and the ex-dictator perished before a retrial could be completed.

It bears reiterating, too, that the US itself had helped pave the way for war in Guatemala by overthrowing in 1954 the democratically-elected president, Jacobo Arbenz.

His crime? A less than obsequious attitude to US corporate interests.

Surplus of cruelty

Nor was Honduras spared the touch of Abrams and his fellow US diplomatic personnel, as a CIA-trained elite death squad by the name of Battalion 3-16 made life hell for many a suspected leftist in the 1980s. Abrams, for his part, fawned over the right-wing Honduran regime that thrived thanks in part to such abuses, and he continued to vouch – for years to come – for the human rights standards of Reaganite policy in Central America.

It’s worth keeping such history in mind, as we’re now confronted with allegations in mainstream US media that Maduro is presiding over “death squads”.

In his announcement regarding the appointment of Abrams to the position of Venezuelan saviour, Pompeo decried the “cruel dictator in Venezuela” and the “more than a million refugees” who had “fled the horrors of the Maduro regime” – pretty bold statements coming from a government that has for numerous decades been on the side of dictators and cruelty in Latin America, while heightening violent contexts that have themselves produced an untold number of refugees.

The past is present

Abrams’s own track record also includes cheerleading for the US invasion of Iraq as well as Israeli assaults on Arab civilians – things that clearly don’t mesh with the notion of “rights and liberties of all peoples”.

He was furthermore reportedly linked to the failed 2002 coup against Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, a persistent thorn in the side of US imperialism.

Now, following reports that Guaido will allow greater access to foreign private oil companies, one can’t help but conclude that, as usual, professed US concern for “the Venezuelan people” really has nothing to do with people at all.

Facing persistent questions about his problematic past, Abrams was recently quoted as saying: “We are not focussed on the events of the 1980s. We are focussed on the events of 2019.”

But judging from the fact that the US continues to be run by criminals, it seems the times really haven’t changed at all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.