[News] Elliott Abrams, Trump’s Pick to Bring “Democracy” to Venezuela, Has Spent His Life Crushing Democracy

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 30 18:12:15 EST 2019


  Elliott Abrams, Trump’s Pick to Bring “Democracy” to Venezuela, Has
  Spent His Life Crushing Democracy

Jon Schwarz <https://theintercept.com/staff/jonschwarz/>- January 30 2019

_On December 11, 1981_ in El Salvador, a Salvadoran military unit 
created and trained by the U.S. Army began slaughtering everyone they 
could find in a remote village called El Mozote. Before murdering the 
women and girls, the soldiers raped them repeatedly, including some as 
young as 10 years old, and joked that their favorites were the 
12-year-olds. One witness described a soldier tossing a 3-year-old child 
into the air and impaling him with his bayonet. The final death toll was 
over 800 people.

The next day, December 12, was the first day on the job for Elliott 
Abrams as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian 
affairs in the Reagan administration. Abrams snapped into action, 
helping to lead a cover-up of the massacre. 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 

This past Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named 
<https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2019/01/288590.htm> Abrams as 
America’s special envoy for Venezuela. According to Pompeo, Abrams “will 
have responsibility for all things related to our efforts to restore 
democracy” in the oil-rich nation.

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. Combining these two factors — the brutality and the 
unctuousness — is Abrams’s core competency.

Abrams previously served in a multitude of positions in the Ronald 
Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, 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).

In these positions, Abrams participated in many of the most ghastly acts 
of U.S. foreign policy from the past 40 years, all the while proclaiming 
how deeply he cared about the foreigners he and his friends were 
murdering. Looking back, it’s uncanny to see how Abrams has almost 
always been there when U.S. actions were at their most sordid.

_Abrams, a graduate_ of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, 
joined the Reagan administration in 1981, at age 33. He soon received a 
promotion due to a stroke of luck: Reagan wanted to name Ernest Lefever 
as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian 
affairs, but Lefever’s nomination ran aground when two of his own 
brothers revealed 
<https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=dEMRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2OkDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6879%2C452084> that 
he believed African-Americans were “inferior, intellectually speaking.” 
A disappointed Reagan was forced to turn to Abrams as a second choice.

A key Reagan administration concern at the time was Central America — in 
particular, the four adjoining nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, 
Honduras, and Nicaragua. All had been dominated by tiny, cruel, white 
elites since their founding, with a century’s worth of help from U.S. 
interventions. In each country, the ruling families saw their society’s 
other inhabitants as human-shaped animals, who could be harnessed or 
killed as needed.

But shortly before Reagan took office, Anastasio Somoza, the dictator of 
Nicaragua and a U.S. ally, had been overthrown by a socialist 
revolution. The Reaganites rationally saw this as a threat to the 
governments of Nicaragua’s neighbors. Each country had large populations 
who similarly did not enjoy being worked to death on coffee plantations 
or watching their children die of easily treated diseases. Some would 
take up arms, and some would simply try to keep their heads down, but 
all, from the perspective of the cold warriors in the White House, were 
likely “communists 
taking orders from Moscow. They needed to be taught a lesson.

      El Salvador

The extermination of El Mozote was just a drop in the river of what 
happened in El Salvador during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died 
during what’s called a “civil war,” although almost all the killing was 
done by the government and its associated death squads.

The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. El Salvador is a small 
country, about the size of New Jersey. The equivalent number of deaths 
in the U.S. would be almost 5 million. Moreover, the Salvadoran regime 
continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no 
contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS. In one instance, a 
Catholic priest reported 
<https://books.google.com/books?id=BU9tAwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA426&ots=5H9i6kjjPH&dq=%22as%20if%20each%20body%20was%20stroking%20its%20own%20head.%22%20-chomsky&pg=PA426#v=onepage&q=%22tonita%20is%20a%20peasant%22&f=false> that 
a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her 
mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been 
decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting 
around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, 
“as though each body was stroking its own head.” The hand of one, a 
toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been 
nailed onto it. At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood.

Criticism of U.S. policy at the time was not confined to the left. 
During this period, Charles Maechling Jr., who had led State Department 
planning for counterinsurgencies during the 1960s, wrote in the Los 
Angeles Times that the U.S. was supporting “Mafia-like oligarchies” in 
El Salvador and elsewhere and was directly complicit in “the methods of 
Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

Abrams was one of the architects of the Reagan administration’s policy 
of full-throated support for the Salvadoran government. He had no qualms 
about any of it and no mercy for anyone who escaped the Salvadoran 
abattoir. In 1984, sounding exactly like Trump officials today, he 
explained that Salvadorans who were in the U.S. illegally should not 
receive any kind of special status. “Some groups argue that illegal 
aliens who are sent back to El Salvador meet persecution and often 
death,” he told the House of Representatives 
“Obviously, we do not believe these claims or we would not deport these 

Even when out of office, 10 years after the El Mozote massacre, Abrams 
expressed doubt that anything untoward had occurred there. In 1993, when 
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 Abrams’s friends in the Salvadoran government, he called 
<https://www.thenation.com/article/elliott-abrams-its-back/> what he and 
his colleagues in the Reagan administration had done a “fabulous 


The situation in Guatemala during the 1980s was much the same, as were 
Abrams’s actions. After the U.S. engineered the overthrow of Guatemala’s 
democratically elected president in 1954, the country had descended into 
a nightmare of revolving military dictatorships. Between 1960 and 1996, 
in another “civil war,” 200,000 Guatemalans were killed — the equivalent 
of maybe 8 million people in America. A U.N. commission later found that 
the Guatemalan state was responsible for 93 percent of the human rights 

Efraín Ríos Montt, who served as Guatemala’s president in the early 
1980s, was found guilty in 2013, by Guatemala’s own justice system, of 
committing genocide against the country’s indigenous Mayans. During Ríos 
Montt’s administration, Abrams called for the lifting of an embargo on 
U.S. arms shipments to Guatemala, claiming that Ríos Montt had “brought 
considerable progress.” The U.S. had to support the Guatemalan 
government, Abrams argued, because “if we take the attitude ‘don’t come 
to us until you’re perfect, we’re going to walk away from this problem 
until Guatemala has a /perfect /human rights record,’ then we’re going 
to be leaving in the lurch people there who are trying to make 
progress.” One example of the people making an honest effort, according 
to Abrams, was Ríos Montt. Thanks to Ríos Montt, “there has been a 
tremendous change, especially in the attitude of the government toward 
the Indian population.” (Ríos Montt’s conviction was later set aside by 
Guatemala’s highest civilian court, and he died before a new trial could 


Abrams would become best known for his enthusiastic involvement with the 
Reagan administration’s push to overthrow Nicaragua’s revolutionary 
Sandinista government. He advocated for a full invasion of Nicaragua in 
1983, immediately after the successful U.S. attack on the teeny island 
nation of Grenada. When Congress cut off funds to the Contras, an 
anti-Sandinista guerrilla force created by the U.S., Abrams successfully 
persuaded the Sultan of Brunei to cough up $10 million for the cause. 
Unfortunately, Abrams, acting under the code name “Kenilworth,” provided 
the Sultan with the wrong Swiss bank account number, so the money was 
wired instead to a random lucky recipient.

Abrams was questioned by Congress about his Contra-related activities 
<https://fas.org/irp/offdocs/walsh/chap_25.htm> and lied voluminously. 
He later pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information. One 
was about the Sultan and his money, and another was about Abrams’s 
knowledge of a Contra resupply C-123 plane that had been shot down in 
1986. In a nice historical rhyme with his new job in the Trump 
administration, Abrams had previously attempted to obtain two C-123s for 
the Contras from the military of Venezuela.

Abrams received a sentence of 100 hours of community service and 
perceived the whole affair as an injustice of cosmic proportions. He 
soon wrote a book in which he described his inner monologue about his 
prosecutors, which went: “You miserable, filthy bastards, you 
bloodsuckers!” He was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush 
on the latter’s way out the door after he lost the 1992 election.


While it’s been forgotten now, before America invaded Panama to oust 
Manuel Noriega in 1989, he was a close ally of the U.S. — despite the 
fact the Reagan administration knew 
<https://theintercept.com/2018/05/12/oliver-north-nra-iran-contra/> he 
was a large-scale drug trafficker.

In 1985, Hugo Spadafora, a popular figure in Panama and its one-time 
vice minister for health, believed he had obtained proof of Noriega’s 
involvement in cocaine smuggling. He was on a bus on his way to Panama 
City to release it publicly when he was seized by Noriega’s thugs.

According to the book “Overthrow” by former New York Times correspondent 
Stephen Kinzer, U.S. intelligence picked up Noriega giving his 
underlings the go-ahead to put Spadafora down like “a rabid dog.” They 
tortured Spadafora for a long night and then sawed off his head while he 
was still alive. When Spadafora’s body was found, his stomach was full 
of blood he’d swallowed.

This was so horrific that it got people’s attention. But Abrams leapt to 
Noriega’s defense, blocking the U.S. ambassador to Panama from 
increasing pressure on the Panamanian leader. When Spadafora’s brother 
persuaded North Carolina’s hyper-conservative GOP Sen. Jesse Helms to 
hold hearings on Panama, Abrams told Helms that Noriega was “being 
really helpful to us” and was “really not that big a problem. … The 
Panamanians have promised they are going to help us with the Contras. If 
you have the hearings, it’ll alienate them.”

      … And That’s Not All

Abrams also engaged in malfeasance for no discernible reason, perhaps 
just to stay in shape. In 1986 a Colombian journalist named Patricia 
Lara was invited to the U.S. to attend a dinner honoring writers who’d 
advanced “inter-American understanding and freedom of information.” When 
Lara arrived at New York’s Kennedy airport, she was taken into custody, 
then put on a plane back home. Soon afterward, Abrams went on “60 
Minutes” to claim 
that Lara was a member of the “ruling committees” of M-19, a Colombian 
guerrilla movement. She also, according to Abrams, was ”an active 
liaison” between M-19 ”and the Cuban secret police.”

Given the frequent right-wing paramilitary violence against Colombian 
reporters, this painted a target on Lara’s back. There was no evidence 
then that Abrams’s assertions were true — Colombia’s own conservative 
government denied it — and none has appeared since.

Abrams’s never-ending, shameless deceptions wore down 
American reporters. “They said that black was white,” Joanne Omang at 
the Washington Post later explained about Abrams and his White House 
colleague Robert McFarlane. “Although I had used all my professional 
resources I had misled my readers.” Omang was so exhausted by the 
experience that she quit her job trying to describe the real world to 
try to write fiction.

Post-conviction Abrams was seen as damaged goods who couldn’t return to 
government. This underestimated him. Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., the 
one-time chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tangled fiercely with 
Abrams in 1989 over the proper U.S. policy toward Noriega once it become 
clear he was more trouble than he was worth. Crowe strongly opposed a 
bright idea 
<https://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/16/opinion/l-elliott-abrams-remains-reckless-on-panama-519789.html> that 
Abrams had come up with: that the U.S. should establish a 
government-in-exile on Panamanian soil, which would require thousands of 
U.S. troops to guard. This was deeply boneheaded, Crowe said, but it 
didn’t matter. Crowe presciently issued a warning 
about Abrams: “This snake’s hard to kill.”

To the surprise of Washington’s more naive insiders, Abrams was back in 
business soon after George W. Bush entered the White House. It might 
have been difficult to get Senate approval for someone who had deceived 
Congress, so Bush put him in a slot at the National Security Council 
— where no legislative branch approval was needed. Just like 20 years 
before, Abrams was handed a portfolio involving “democracy” and “human 


By the beginning of 2002, Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, had become 
deeply irritating to the Bush White House, which was filled with 
veterans of the battles of the 1980s. That April, all of a sudden, out 
of nowhere, Chavez was pushed out of power in a coup. Whether and how 
the U.S. was involved is not yet known, and probably won’t be for 
decades until the relevant documents are declassified. But based on the 
previous 100 years, it would be surprising indeed if America didn’t play 
any behind-the-scenes role. For what it’s worth, the London Observer 
<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/apr/21/usa.venezuela> at the 
time that “the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams” and he “gave a 
nod” to the plotters. In any case, Chavez had enough popular support 
that he was able to regroup and return to office within days.


Abrams apparently did play a key role 
<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/07/AR2007020702408.html> in 
squelching a peace proposal from Iran in 2003, just after the U.S. 
invasion of Iraq. The plan arrived by fax, and should have gone to 
Abrams, and then to Condoleezza Rice, at the time Bush’s national 
security adviser. Instead it somehow never made it to Rice’s desk. When 
later asked about this, Abrams’s spokesperson replied that he “had no 
memory of any such fax.” (Abrams, like so many people who thrive at the 
highest level of politics, has a terrible memory for anything political. 
In 1984, he told Ted Koppel that he couldn’t recall for sure whether the 
U.S. had investigated reports of massacres in El Salvador. In 1986, when 
asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee if he’d discussed fundraising 
for the contras with anyone on the NSC’s staff, he likewise couldn’t 

      Israel and Palestine

Abrams was also at the center of another attempt to thwart the outcome 
of a democratic election, in 2006. Bush had pushed for legislative 
elections in the West Bank and Gaza in order to give Fatah, the highly 
corrupt Palestinian organization headed by Yasser Arafat’s successor, 
Mahmoud Abbas, some badly needed legitimacy. To everyone’s surprise, 
Fatah’s rival Hamas won, giving it the right to form a government.

This unpleasant outburst of democracy was not acceptable to the Bush 
administration, in particular Rice and Abrams. They hatched a plan to 
form a Fatah militia to take over the Gaza Strip, and crush Hamas in its 
home territory. As reported by Vanity Fair 
<https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/04/gaza200804>, this involved a 
great deal of torture and executions. But Hamas stole a march on Fatah 
with their own ultra-violence. David Wurmser, a neoconservative who 
worked for Dick Cheney at the time, told Vanity Fair, “It looks to me 
that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup 
by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.” Yet ever since, 
these events gave been turned upside down in the U.S. media, with 
Hamas//being presented as the aggressors.

While the U.S. plan was not a total success, it also was not a total 
failure from the perspective of America and Israel. The Palestinian 
civil war split the West Bank and Gaza into two entities, with rival 
governments in both. For the past 13 years, there’s been little sign of 
the political unity necessary for Palestinians to get a decent life for 

Abrams then left office with Bush’s exit. But now he’s back for a third 
rotation through the corridors of power – with the same kinds of schemes 
he’s executed the first two times.

Looking back at Abrams’s lifetime of lies and savagery, it’s hard to 
imagine what he could say to justify it. But he does have a defense 
for everything he’s done — and it’s a good one.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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