Elliott Abrams is President Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela. He first became known in 1982 after he was named assistant secretary of state for human rights in the Ronald Reagan administration.
As a junior in the Reagan administration’s wars in Central America, Abrams was an ardent defender of pro-U.S. forces that committed human rights atrocities and a fierce critic of those who accurately reported on their war crimes.
Abrams early days in US government can serve as a guide to what we can expect from the Trump administration’s policy of “regime change” in Venezuela.
I’ll give you a hint, it’s doesn’t end well.
In an exchange that made US news at a House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Ilhan Omar confronted Abrams about his conviction for lying to Congress and false statements he made about the infamous El Mozote massacre.
While in the Reagan administration, Abrams wove such particular lies into a tapestry of propaganda that would make Trump proud.
Frequently gaslighting critics, suppressing evidence and tolerating US backed forces brutality towards opponents, was Abrams speciality.
A Brief History Lesson
When Abrams began his career in U.S. politics in the early 1980s, Central America was awash by popular uprisings.
Dictatorships in El Salvador and Guatemala had suppressed, punished and exploited the poor majority for years.
By the late 1970s, these governments, led by military officers and rich & powerful elites, faced their most serious challenge yet; Rebellion by the population.
In El Salvador, a once-conservative cleric, Archbishop Oscar Romero gave his backing to a popular rebellion that enjoyed support from the public and surprisingly some factions in the military.
In Guatemala, the oppression that began with the CIA led coup of 1954, was driving most opponents of the government to sympathize with or join, a rapidly growing guerilla movement in the countryside.
President Reagan was dedicated to “turning the tide” against communism worldwide. He viewed anyone who did not pledge allegiance to U.S. policy as; a “communist,” “terrorist,” or “communist dupe.” As such, these forces were targets of violent US suppression.
In El Salvador, the Reagan administration backed an ultra-right-wing faction of the military led by an intelligence officer called Roberto d’Aubuisson
It just so happened he was trained at the CIA-run International Police Academy in Washington. Coincidence?
D’Aubuisson masterminded the assassination of Monsignor Romero in March 1980 and commanded the death squads that liquidated civilians in favor of peaceful change. Abrahams stayed quiet.
In Guatemala, the ultra-right celebrated Reagan’s intervention and stepped up its campaign of kidnapping opponents in the capital and murdering farmers in the countryside. Abrahams said nothing despite being more than aware of the atrocities going on.
In the State Department’s annual report on human right in Guatemala, Abrams justified this bloody policy with creative spin.
“The allocation of responsibility for specific crimes done by certain rightist elements or by the members of the security forces associated with them has been difficult,” the 1983 human rights report on El Salvador said.
This was a was an allusion to a string of high-profile assassinations, including the murder of Monsignor Romero.
“Anybody who thinks you’re going to find a cable that says that Roberto d’Aubuisson murdered the archbishop is a fool,”
Abrams said at the time.
In fact, there were at least two US State Department diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador which stated exactly that.
Abrams’ willingness to impugn critics as “fools” for citing evidence to which he himself had access to, epitomised his brazen style.
Smoke and Mirrors
“Extremists of the right and left are guilty of politically motivated civilian deaths as are some members of the Armed Forces,”
This suggested both that there was equal blame to the political violence between left and right, and that the armed forces were not part of the right.
The report was later shown to be a complete lie.
The 1993 UN Truth Commission found that 85% of the "civilian non-combatant" deaths were inflicted by government forces. Only 5% could be attributed to the left.
In other words, the government forces who were armed and trained by the United States, were 17 times more likely to be responsible for political murders than the anti-U.S. forces of the left.
Abrams whitewashed this reality blaming “extremists of the right and left.”
His now Commander in Chief, Donald Trump, did the same thing when far-right protesters descended on Charlottesville. Trump blamed both sides refusing to blame the white supremacists. Even after one of them ploughed into a crowd killing a counter protester.
Maybe this is why Trump chose him. He know Abrams will do anything to get the job done.
‘Horrible Realities’ pushed as 'Progress'
In February 1984, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Frederic Chapin sent a confidential diplomatic cable to Washington to alert them to what he called; “the horrible human rights realities” in the country.
Two recent kidnappings in broad daylight showed that government “security forces will strike whenever there is a target of importance” he said.
Abrams found a silver lining in the carnage. The State Department’s 1983 report on Guatemala declared, “Serious human rights problems continued but, there were improvements in some important areas.”
Abrams then signed off on a secret report to Congress citing the alleged improvement of human rights as justification for a resumption in U.S. security assistance to the Guatemalan government.
The government, Abrams claimed;
“has taken a number of positive steps to restore a constitutional, electoral process and to address the practice of extra-legal detentions.”
In fact, a 1986 State Department study of Guatemala’s “disappeared” found;
“the practice of kidnappings became institutionalised. Most of the disappeared have in fact been kidnapped by the security forces…. To our knowledge, no member of the military, policy, security forces, or paramilitary groups has ever been prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced for participation in politically-related abductions.”
The study stated that;
“under the last three military governments the rate of reported kidnappings has increased, according to our statistics.”
In 1984, Abrams made the claim that the government was taking “positive steps” resulting in “important areas of improvement.”
Despite the fact more than three people were kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Guatemala every single day.
This is the man who Trump disciple Max Boot described as “a leading advocate of human rights and democracy.” You really couldn’t make this up.
What It Means for Venezuela
Abrams told Rep. Omar that U.S. policy in El Salvador was an “outstanding achievement” because it resulted in free elections.
What he didn’t say was that the reign of terror in El Salvador & Guatemala in the 1980s generated a stream of refugees to the United States that is still flowing today.
Thanks to Reagan policy, El Salvador and Guatemala are now essentially failed states.
Donald Trump would probably prefer the description; “sh*tholes.”
This is the record to keep in mind as Abrams pushes the “democratic transition” line on Venezuela.
If Venezuela’s future is anything like the “democratic transition” in Central America of the 1980s, the process will be covered up and soaked in blood.
The fact the mainstream press have raised so little of Abrams past is mystifying. Convicted of lying to the US Congress usually condemns your political career. Not in Abrams case.
Now he’s at the forefront of yet another attempt by the US to impose a government that will toe the line. Will it be as blood as the 1980s? I hope not but, as things in Venezuela escalate, anything is possible.