William Boardman / Reader Supported News & Bill Berkowitz / The Smirking Chimp – 2019-02-05 23:02:31
Career War Criminal Elliott Abrams to Lead US on Venezuela
William Boardman / Reader Supported News
“Everywhere Elliott Abrams goes,
innocent people are left bleeding or dead”
In 1985, an activist for the relatives of the disappeared [persons in Guatemala], named Rosario Godoy, was abducted by the army. She was raped. Her mutilated body was found alongside that of her baby. The baby’s fingernails had been torn out. The Guatemalan army, when asked about this atrocity, said, “Oh, they died in a traffic accident.”
When [US human rights official] Elliott Abrams was asked about this accident, he affirmed also that they died in a traffic accident. This activist, raped and mutilated, the baby with his fingernails pulled out, Abrams says it’s a traffic accident.
â€“ Allan Nairn, on Democracy NOW!, January 30, 2019
(February 4, 2019) — Some say history repeats itself. Mark Twain said history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes. The January 25 appointment of convicted perjurer Elliott Abrams as the new US Special Envoy on Venezuela is evidence that history just goes on and on and on with ironic cruelty and relentless injustice. That would be especially true if you happen to have the world’s largest proven oil reserve, as Venezuela does.
The malign US interference in Venezuela goes back more than a century. For decades the idea of “Venezuelan democracy” was a US-inflected oxymoron. When Venezuela somehow elected Hugo Chavez president in 1999 — legitimately — turnout was 63%, and Chavez won 56% of the vote (both better numbers than the 2016 US presidential election).
Chavez was a leader of failed coups in 1992 that tried to topple the corrupt kleptocracy of then-president Carlos Andres Perez, who had been elected promising to resist US meddling, only to become a corrupt tool of it (and impeached in 1993).
The US responded to the democratic process in Venezuela with at least one coup attempt in 2002 and chronic economic warfare for two decades. Despite its oil, Venezuela has not prospered and remains a country of about 31 million people, one in five of whom are poor.
Venezuela is now in play once more, with no reasonably decent outcome in sight. Whichever vicious and corrupt side wins, most of the Venezuelan people are likely to lose. In a sense, it was ever thus. Presently, the US has taken sides with self-proclaimed Venezuelan interim president Juan Guaido.
On January 22, Guaido leveraged his position as President of the Venezuelan National Assembly to make an ingenious but untested argument that the national presidency was “vacant” and he had a constitutional obligation to fill it (or something like that — try to find a coherent explanation of what actually happened). In an alternative reality, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro was re-elected president last May and sworn in on January 10.
The Venezuelan constitution is invoked on both sides, and there appears to be no institution with sufficient authority to resolve the issue. The constitutional basis of Guaido’s position is specious on its face, since he relies on Article 233 and none of its conditions apply.
Guaido asserts that the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition party, voided the May 2018 election results and that therefore when Maduro’s term expired on January 9, the presidency became vacant.
On Maduro’s side is the Constituent Assembly, a murky institution created in 2017 that runs in parallel with the National Assembly. The CIA acknowledges that the “ruling party” controls the Constituent Assembly, but states: “The US Government [like 40 other countries] does not recognize the Assembly, which has generally used its powers to rule by decree rather than to reform the constitution.”
So of course when Juan Guaido used the National Assembly’s power to rule by decree, the US rushed to recognize his somewhat imaginary government without hesitation, without analysis, without restraint. Even if there is no practical way to sort out the competing constitutional legalities in an orderly, peaceful way, the US might have given the rule of law at least lip service.
Instead, the US polarizes the world further, demanding that other nations help make Venezuela worse. On January 26, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council:
Now, it is time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.
Whose mayhem? Whose economic sanctions? Whose periodic coup attempts? Pompeo embraces a version of the Big Lie about Venezuela we’ve been hearing for a long, long time. The day before he spoke at the UN, Pompeo announced the appointment of Attorney Elliott Abrams, a promising sign that the Venezuelan future will be dark and bloody.
In his announcement, Pompeo invoked “the Venezuelan people” at least nine times, which should be warning enough. Pompeo said, complete with the contradiction as to which people will be served:
Elliott Abrams is coming aboard to lead our efforts on Venezuela . . . .Elliott’s passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition . . . . Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country . . . . he is eager to advance President Trump’s agenda and promote the ideals and interests of the American people.
President Trump was talking about invading Venezuela in 2017, but was dissuaded by Rex Tillerson, then Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster. The idea is still not off the table, as National Security Advisor John Bolton recently confirmed (along with flashing his notepad with “5,000 troops to Colombia,” unexplained).
Bolton is apparently one of the architects of the current coup effort in Venezuela, along with Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence. Pence was on the phone assuring US support for Guaido before he named himself president (on behalf of the Venezuelan people who were not involved).
Adding Elliott Abrams to this team does little to provide hope for the Venezuelan people. Contrary to Pompeo’s assertion, Abrams has never demonstrated “passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples,” least of all Palestinians. But Abrams’s demonstrated capacity for supporting subversion, torture, and mass killing does indeed make him “a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition.”
After all, Abrams represents the continuity of 40 years of genocidal US global policies. And he participated in many of them, as reported with devastating detail on Democracy NOW as well as the terror timeline in The Intercept, but not so much in mainstream media.
In 1981, at the age of 33, Abrams was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Reagan’s first choice, Ernest Lefever, had been rejected in part for his view that the US should support vicious regimes if they were our allies.
Abrams managed to carry out that policy very well, starting in El Salvador in the early 1980s, when our Salvadoran government ally could carry out human rights violations and mass killings almost without reproach. The government killed nearly 75,000 people. No atrocity was worthy of Abrams’s condemnation. He had no sympathy for those seeking asylum from US-sponsored violence, telling Congress:
Some groups argue that illegal aliens who are sent back to El Salvador meet persecution and often death. Obviously, we do not believe these claims or we would not deport these people.
Overseeing US involvement in Guatemala, Abrams claimed to be equally oblivious to the human rights depredations of the government of Gen. Rios Montt, a born-again evangelical Christian. He was a hero to the Reagan administration as his death squads helped kill some 200,000 Guatemalans.
Rios Montt was eventually convicted in a Guatemalan court of waging genocide against his own people. If there’s any evidence Abrams regrets his support for crimes against humanity, that evidence is well hidden. In 2017, his status as an unindicted war criminal was enough to keep Trump from naming him Secretary of State.
In 1983, Abrams supported the US invasion of Grenada. He also pushed for a full-scale invasion of Nicaragua, where he was already involved in the support of the terrorist Contras against the Sandinista government.
When Congress cut off support to the Contras, Abrams was involved in the criminal activities of the so-called Iran-Contra operation that included selling drugs to support the Contras and shipping arms to Iran to support the Contras. Abrams escaped serious consequences for his crimes, pleading guilty in 1991 to two counts of lying to Congress.
Without remorse, Abrams wrote what he thought of his prosecutors: “You miserable filthy bastards, you bloodsuckers.” The first President Bush pardoned him and five other Iran-Contra criminals on Christmas Eve 1992. (These pardons were supported by current attorney-general nominee William Barr.)
In 1985, the Reagan administration was aware that Panamanian president Manuel Noriega was a heavy drug dealer. When a former Panama health official was about to release what he said was proof of Noriega’s cocaine smuggling, Noriega’s agents seized and tortured the man, sawing off his head while he was still alive.
When the news became public and caused a stir in the US, Abrams went out of his way to block Congressional hearings, claiming that Noriega was “being really helpful to us” with Nicaragua and that he was “really not that big a problem.”
Abrams was reportedly involved in the US-supported coup attempts against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. In 2003, Abrams played a mysterious role in squelching a peace proposal from Iran that might have ended the US war against Iraq.
In 2006, Abrams was instrumental in suppressing the results of a legitimate democratic election. In support of the corrupt Palestinian Authority, the Bush administration pushed for elections in the West Bank and Gaza. To their surprise, Hamas won. In response, Abrams and others tried to organize a coup. Hamas effected a counter-coup, the Bush administration refused to recognize the election winners, and that US-enforced injustice is at the heart of suffering in Gaza now.
Everywhere Elliott Abrams goes, innocent people are left bleeding or dead. Objections among the predominant political and pundit classes are hard to find. The conventional wisdom, especially among Democrats, is to support the US coup attempt but object to any military intervention, as if that satisfied any standard of national sovereignty.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard seems to be alone in saying that the US “needs to stay out of Venezuela.” But now Elliott Abrams is our man for Venezuela. And that suggests that tens of thousands of Venezuelans will soon be having serious “traffic accidents.”
William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Elliott Abrams: Iran-Contra Criminal and
Dictator-Supporter Named Trump’s Point Man On Venezuela
Bill Berkowitz / The Smirking Chimp
(February 5, 2019) — Let’s stipulate the following: The situation in Venezuela is complicated, chaotic, and difficult to fully comprehend; poverty and hunger are rampant; hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking safety elsewhere; an eager group of hawks inside and outside the Trump administration are waiting to pounce; and mismanagement and repression by President Nicolas Maduro’s government has failed to lift the fortunes of many Venezuelans.
Let us also stipulate that many in the US mainstream media — the same media that backed the attempted overthrow of then-President Hugo Chavez — is calling for Maduro to step aside. Finally, although we need to learn more about the US-backed Juan Guaido, the opposition leader that the Venezuelan National assembly named as the country’s interim president, we do know that the Trump administration and several US mainstream media organizations have fully and enthusiastically embraced him.
However, one thing we do know a lot about is the multi-decade work of Elliott Abrams. Bob Garfield, co-host of WNYC’s On The Media, talking with journalist and author Stephen Kinzer, introduced a discussion of Abrams by saying: “The Trump administration has brought in Ronald Reagan’s old conquistador Elliott Abrams, because, I suppose, Hernan Cortes was unavailable.”
Given this confluence of current affairs, is Abrams, the Iran-Contra-enmeshed, Central America dictator-supporting, El Salvador and Guatemala massacre-denying neo-conservative, the best candidate to be special envoy overseeing US policy toward Venezuela?
“The appointment of Elliott Abrams is truly mindboggling,” said Kinzer author of numerous books, including Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, “especially for us old fogies that remember the 1980s . . . . [Back then] Elliott Abrams was a principal perpetrator of US policy in Central America.”
Abrams, a hawkish foreign policy veteran who supported right-wing dictatorships throughout Central America in the 1980s and 1990s, was a key figure in the Iran-Contra Scandal. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information — some call it lying — from Congress about secret efforts to aid the Nicaraguan rebels in 1991. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush the following year. Abrams, The Guardian reported in 2002, “gave a nod to the attempted Venezuelan coup”; the failed attempt to remove then-president Hugo Chavez from office.
“I don’t think it’s an issue,” Abrams, who has recently been working as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently cavalierly told reporters. “We are not focused on the events of the 1980s. We are focused on the events of 2019.” Abrams, who helped orchestrate coups against democratically elected leaders, supported dictators, and directly advocated for the training of death squads in the region, is hoping that there is collective amnesia.
The headline of The Intercept‘s Jon Schwarz’s story on the Abrams appointment says it well: “Elliott Abrams, Trump’s Pick To Bring ‘Democracy’ To Venezuela, Has Spent His Life Crushing Democracy .”
Intervention in El Salvador, Guatemala & Nicaragua
Pick a Central American country in the 1980s and 1990s and Elliott Abrams’ fingerprints are all over US, policy. In El Salvador, Abrams backed the Salvadoran government, which according to a United Nations truth commission report was responsible for 95 percent of the acts of violence, Abrams “called what he and his colleagues in the Reagan administration had done a ‘fabulous achievement,'” The Intercept noted.
Abrams was a big supporter of “Efrain Rios Montt, who served as Guatemala’s president in the early 1980s and was found guilty in 2013, by Guatemala’s own justice system, of committing genocide against the country’s indigenous Mayans,” Schwarz pointed out.
According to mysanantio.com, “While serving as assistant secretary of state for human rights during the Reagan administration, Abrams fervently supported arming Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt. As the Guatemalan dictator carried out a bloody campaign against indigenous Mayans in the 1980s, Abrams claimed Montt ‘brought considerable progress’ on human rights issues and was reducing the number of civilian deaths ‘step by step.'”
Overthrowing Nicaragua’s Sandinista government was perhaps Abrams’ most enthusiastic undertaking. Schwarz: Abrams “advocated for a full invasion of Nicaragua in 1983, immediately after the successful US attack on the teeny island nation of Grenada.
When Congress cut off funds to the Contras, an anti-Sandinista guerrilla force created by the US, Abrams successfully persuaded the Sultan of Brunei to cough up $10 million for the cause . . . . Abrams was questioned by Congress about his Contra-related activities and lied voluminously. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information.
“The choice of Abrams sends a clear message to Venezuela and the world: The Trump administration intends to brutalize Venezuela, while producing a stream of unctuous rhetoric about America’s love for democracy and human rights,” Schwarz reported. “Combining these two factors — the brutality and the unctuousness — is Abrams’s core competency.”
In 1981, immediately after being appointed as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration, Abrams “help[ed] lead a cover-up” of the slaughter of women and children in the village of El Mozote in El Salvador.
Schwarz pointed out that “News reports of what had happened,
Abrams told the Senate, were ‘not credible,’ and the whole thing was being ‘significantly misused’ as propaganda by anti-government guerillas.”
Abrams is one of those career government characters that never goes away, despite mishaps, failures and spreading misinformation and disinformation. As Schwarz pointed out, Abrams was a regular employee of the administrations of Ronald Reagan — which he joined in 1981 at the age of 33 — and George W. Bush, “often with titles declaring their focus on morality”:
“First, he was assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs (in 1981);
then the State Department “human rights” position mentioned above (1981-85);
assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs (1985-89);
senior director for democracy, human rights, and international operations for the National Security Council (2001-05);
and finally, Bush’s deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy (2005-09).”
Given his role in helping destabilize Central America, it was perhaps a bit surprising that Abrams would be brought back into government during the George W. Bush years; skirting Senate approval by being put “in a slot at the National Security Council — where no legislative branch approval was needed.”
According to The Guardian, “Abrams, who operates in the White House as senior director of the National Security Council for ‘democracy, human rights and international operations’ was the crucial figure around the coup.
Dealing with Venezuela might be Abrams’ last hurrah. Given his record, is he really the right man for the job? National Security Adviser John Bolton insists that “Elliott is exactly the type of tough-minded foreign policy veteran necessary to overcome the oppression and destabilizing corruption that is facing Venezuela. I have personally known him for years, and he is more than qualified to approach the fundamental human rights challenges in the region.”
Veteran investigative journalist Allan Nairn has a different take. Nairn recently told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that “Abrams was the key man in Reagan administration policy toward Central America, when that administration was abetting what a court recently ruled was a genocide in Guatemala, when the US was backing the army of El Salvador in a series of death squad assassinations and massacres, and when the US was invading Nicaragua with a Contra force that went after what one US general described as ‘soft targets,’ meaning civilians, things like cooperatives.”
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His Conservative Watch columns document the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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