The United States’ intervention in Central America and other parts of Latin America has had long-lasting effects, with many affected people and their families still not seeing the justice they deserve. On Wednesday, freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar was able to press Elliott Abrams, the new special envoy to Venezuela and someone who played a role in the policies that have devastated these regions.
When Abrams was named Friday to a post that deals with all matters “related to our efforts to restore democracy” in Venezuela, some felt this demonstrated what the US intended to do in the South American country. He spent his first day as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs trying to cover up what happened the day before in El Mozote, a village in El Salvador, on December 11, 1981 when the US-trained Salvadoran military raped women and girls and murdered more than 800 people. It’s a horrific moment in history, and until this day, remains of those brutally murdered are being found.
At the time, Abrams downplayed what happened, refuting media reports of the gruesome atrocities. He even defended these actions years later. In 1993, when a United Nations truth commission found that US-backed military and death squads were responsible for an overwhelming majority of crimes during El Salvador’s civil war. Abrams responded by stating, “The Administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.”
His list of offenses doesn’t stop there. Abrams and the US government also had his hands in other Central American countries in this time period. He openly supported corrupt governments, like Efraín Ríos Montt, who is responsible for the genocide of Indigenous communities in the country. He called for an invasion of Nicaragua, and under a secret name, got the Sultan of Brunei to agree to give $10 million to the Contras – a guerrilla group supported by the US. When questioned by Congress about his involvement, he lied. Eventually, he plead guilty to lying about the Sultan and about knowing abut a Contra resupply plane that was shot down in 1986.
Given all this and his actions in Panama, Iran, and more, Omar – a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – took Abrams to task for his actions under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s administrations in a hearing about the crisis in Venezuela.
Omar began by talking about his guilty pleas: “I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.” Abrams tried to interject, but Omar told him that she hadn’t asked him a question. “It was an attack,” he replied.
Then, detailing the horrendous crimes in El Mozote, Omar asked him if he still believed that what happened there was a “fabulous achievement.”
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy,” he responded. “That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Omar refused to accept his answer, following it up with, “Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a ‘fabulous achievement’ that happened under our watch?”
“That is a ridiculous question, and I will not respond to it,” he said. “… I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman, I am not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question.”
She continued to press him and asked him if he, as he’s done in the past, support and push for genocide and war crimes in Venezuela. Check out the interaction below.