Drop Elliot Abrams: Survivors of Genocide & their Descendants demand that the United States Holocaust Memorial Council remove Abrams from their Committee on Conscience

Dear members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide,

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, are sending this letter in support of the Call to Conscience Committee of survivors of genocide, mass murder, and other atrocities committed under the Nazi regime and under the Central American dictatorial regimes supported by the United States during the 1980s.

As the survivors of and descendants of those who survived and were lost to genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced displacement, as well as organizations who defend against these crimes against humanity, we share a commitment to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council’s core mission of preventing genocide. The Center states that its Committee on Conscience is “mandated to alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.”

Thus, we question the choice of the Council in offering a Committee seat to Elliott Abrams, President Trump’s recent appointee as special envoy to Venezuela. Given the crucial mission of this institution, we cannot fathom how Abrams, a proven supporter of the some of the world’s most nefarious mass murderers over the past 40 years, including those responsible for the 1981 Mozote massacre of over 900 civilians in El Salvador, could be a member of your committee.

Abrams’ recent appointment as special envoy has created an opportunity for the people of the United States to reflect on our government’s foreign policies in Central America during the 1980s. Just last week, U.S. Representatives Adriano Espaillat, Joaquín Castro, and Ilhan Omar rightfully demanded that Abrams’ role not be merely forgotten or buried in the past. Abrams played a prominent role in shaping these policies and their implementation. We are long past due to take a thorough look at the direct role that Abrams played in fomenting genocide and mass murder. Simply because Abrams was legally pardoned by former President George W. Bush does not mean that his actions in Central America were morally excusable.

We, the signatories, ask why the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide have not taken Abrams’ reprehensible role in Central America into account. Do the lives of countless Central Americans killed in genocidal acts not count? How can the Committee on Conscience prevent future genocides if it has not come to terms with the involvement of one of its own members in supporting such atrocities?

We are currently witnessing defenders of Elliott Abrams denying and diminishing his role in supporting genocide in Central America, as he has re-entered the public eye. We, as survivors of genocide and their descendants, including those of the Nazi holocaust, understand the necessity of not allowing erasures or denials of genocide as central to preventing them in the future. Public leaders who are desperately attempting to protect Elliott Abrams from public scrutiny are no different than Holocaust deniers. When such Holocaust denialism appears in public discourse it is immediately and rightfully challenged by the Jewish community. It is equally incumbent on us to challenge those who deny or diminish genocidal acts against all peoples, including Central Americans, who directly suffered due to his actions and who remain traumatized by this history. It is simultaneously an insult to Jews everywhere, including Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

In his positions in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, Abrams participated in and sought to cover up some of the most inhumane acts of US foreign policy history in the last several decades — all while holding titles declaring their focus on humanity.

The United States government, under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, provided both material and moral support to the dictatorial General Efraín Ríos Montt government through the supply of munitions and training to the Guatemalan army and economic aid. The Historical Clarification Commission, a UN-sponsored truth commission, created after the Guatemalan civil war, documented unspeakable atrocities, including murder, mutilation, rape, torture, committed by the Ríos Montt government. On May 10th 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted for the genocidal slaughter of as many as 200,000 members of indigenous groups during the 1980s. During Ríos Montt’s administration, Abrams called for the lifting of an embargo on U.S. arms shipments to Guatemala. Abrams sought to publically diminish Ríos Montt’s campaign of genocide and suggested that Ríos Montt “brought considerable progress” for human rights in the country.”

Abrams was also one of the key architects of the Reagan administration’s policy of unflinching support for the repressive Salvadoran government during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died during El Salvador’s civil war. In 1993, a United Nations truth commission found that 95 percent of the acts of violence that had taken place in El Salvador since 1980 had been committed by the government and its associated death squads. The Atlacatl Battalion, a section of the Salvadoran army created at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, perpetrated a massacre in the village of El Mozote on December 11th 1981, in which more than 900 civilians were killed. This was the worst massacre of civilians in modern Latin American history. On February 8th, Elliott Abrams, while serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, told a Senate committee that “it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas” and dismissed news reports of what had happened at El Mozote as “not credible.”

Abrams has become most notoriously known for his connection to the Reagan administration’s push to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. The Reagan Administration authorized the CIA to arm and train a coalition of right-wing rebels who came to be known as the Contras. The Contras initiated a guerilla war against the Sandinista government that led to widespread human rights abuses against civilians, according to human rights groups. During the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal, which involved the illegal sale of arms to Iran to secretly fund the Contras, Abrams lied when questioned by Congress about his role. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress as part of a plea agreement.

This summation of Abrams’ immoral actions are merely the tip of the iceberg. Abrams has a long history of supporting abuses and atrocities and then routinely diminishing or misleading the public about them. This is dangerous geopolitical gaslighting and we cannot be complicit with it. We have the hindsight of a well-documented and verified history to know enough about what Elliott Abrams has done and we now need the moral clarity to ensure that justice is no longer delayed.

We, the signatories, respectfully demand the following actions be taken in light of the role that Elliott Abrams and the US government have played in past atrocities and to rebuild trust with Central American communities and all those whose histories of genocide demand acknowledgment and justice. From the mass genocide of indigenous people in the Americas, to the Congo and Yemen, to the Philippines and Palestine, to Brazil and Venezuela, those historically and currently threatened by or experiencing genocide require an immediate halt to these threats. We therefore demand that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

  1. Immediately remove Elliott Abrams as a member of its Committee on Conscience
  2. Publish a public apology to Central Americans for its short-sightedness in including Elliott Abrams in its Committee on Conscience and on its board between February 2009 and January 2014
  3. Apologize in public to Jews and to Holocaust survivors for its involvement with and support of Elliott Abrams.

If the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide are unwilling to respond to our demands, we promise to maintain and increase pressure on the institution until it is willing to confront its complicity in affiliating with those who have orchestrated and denied genocide. We earnestly await a dignified and respectful response.

The Call to Conscience Committee

Mario Avila, survivor of torture whose brother was disappeared in Guatemala

José Cartagena, survivor of repression in El Salvador who lost many fellow students and friends in the Rio Sumpul massacre

Carlos Mauricio, former professor who fled El Salvador after being tortured by police under orders of two generals trained by the US military at the School of the Americas

Christopher Novoa, El Salvador

María Luisa Rosal Vargas, defender of human rights and daughter of Jorge Alberto Rosal Paz y Paz, disappeared on August 12, 1983 in Guatemala

Nestor Villatoro, son of Amancio Samuel Villatoro, murdered by Guatemalan death squads in 1984

Margot Goldstein, daughter and granddaughter of German Jewish refugees to Argentina, from Nazi Germany

Liliana Cordova-Kaczerginski, daughter of survivor of the Nazi genocide who fought in the Vilna Ghetto Uprising in Poland and eventually fled to Argentina

Anna Baltzer, granddaughter of survivors of Nazi genocide, whose family members perished in Auschwitz

Sue Goldstein, grandniece of Rose Frankel, who perished in Eastern Poland during the Nazi genocide

Rio Scharf, grandson of survivor who fled Berlin at 13 and who lost of her family in the Nazi genocide

Supporting Organizations:
Anakbayan East Bay 
Arab Resource and Organizing Center
Center for Political Education 
Gabriela
Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans 
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Presente 
VietUnity East Bay

#DropElliottAbrams #JusticeForCentralAmerica #ResistGenocideDenial #NoMoreGenocides

We demand that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council remove Abrams from their Committee on Conscience