Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I started a new job and have been working crazy hours. This week will be just as bad. Luckily, mi padre is going to write a few pieces to keep things moving. I’m working on part two of Watergate which I hope to have done soon.
In the meantime, I found a thread from historian and writer from the New Republic, Patrick Iber, concerning Iran-Contra and Elliott Abrams:
I don’t have time to do a proper Elliot Abrams thread but here is the issue as I see it: Abrams in the 1980s was not just an ordinary Reagan administration official, he was an especially hard-line Reagan administration official. We must remember that Reagan was facing an opposition Congress, which tried to cut off aid to forces that were using repression and murder as tools to achieve their political ends.
Abrams would say these were terrorist guerrilla forces. Alas, the peaceful, non-violent activists had mostly been killed by that point. Remember, in El Salvador they killed Oscar Romero, a mainstream social justice Catholic (not even a liberation theologian) while he said mass. When four U.S. churchwomen were murdered, Al Haig* tried to say there may have been an “exchange of gunfire.”
And all of this behavior, which brought so much suffering to El Salvador, to Guatemala, to Honduras, to Nicaragua, was seen by Abrams and his allies within the administration as the fault of international Communism. Now of course there was aid to guerrilla groups from Cuba and so on, nor were they perfect. But the truth commission reports put around 90% of the extrajudicial killings on government forces. And this was clear throughout the conflict.
And people who tried to make clear that the US-backed side of the conflict was committing serious human rights abuses and hold them accountable were seen by Abrams as doing the work of Communism. He saw advocates of dialogue as enemies. Here are a couple of paragraphs from William LeoGrande’s “Our Own Backyard,” the definitive book on U.S. politics in Central America in the 1980s. Abrams made targets of human rights advocates, not just guerrillas.
And, for example, he tried to use blackmail to make sure Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias (recently disgraced by allegations of sexual assault but a Nobel laureate for his role facilitating negotiations that led to peace) would cooperate with the illegal US war in Nicaragua.
Not to mention the lying to Congress, which, let’s remember, happened because the Reagan administration wanted to back an illegal war after having been specifically prohibited from doing so by law. Democracy promotion indeed! Look: I know the journalist who broke the El Mozote story, Alma Guillermoprieto. We’ve been friends for years. She is still traumatized by what she saw there. The US embassy officials in El Salvador, meanwhile, didn’t venture out. They didn’t want to see. They didn’t even want to understand what they were complicit in. To them it was just Commies and their allies over there and freedom-fighters on the other side.
Democracy promotion as Abrams understood it has a particular pedigree in Cold War anti-Communism. In my work I look at CIA democracy promotion through culture in the 50s/60s. After that got exposed in 1967, it was revived in the National Endowment for Democracy under Reagan. The longtime head of the NED, just like those Cold War anti-Communists, began as a socialist. The “State Department socialists” people sometimes call them, although Abrams is not that, he began his political life as a Scoop Jackson/Moynihan hawk.
And they’re both anti-dictatorship and anti-Communist. But when they’ve got a left-wing dictatorship on their hands, that’s when they really start salivating. And, like it or not, NED support has been there in Venezuela for the opposition for years. I’m not going to defend Maduro, and for someone on the left I have been publicly critical of not only Maduro but also of autocratic aspects of Chavismo over the years. Nor am I even going say that these connections to the US make Guaidó or his demands illegitimate.
But the very legitimate worry is that by having Abrams prominently involved in Venezuela will empower hard-liners in the opposition, who have their own problems with “democracy”. I’m not trying to make an equivalence here, but you can’t look at his record and think that this would be a person who will support a negotiation that could lead to a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Maduro has also an obstacle to that, no doubt.
But having Abrams involved sends the worst kind of signals about the intentions of the U.S., and about the frame of mind of those who are seeking to intervene. In my opinion Venezuela’s next leader should be elected in free and competitive elections, and be able to speak both to the legitimate concerns and needs of chavista voters as well as supporters of the opposition.
I don’t see why Abrams should have any role to play in this, and I don’t see why we should rehabilitate someone who, in my estimation, is guilty, has not paid for his crimes, and has not accepted that he is guilty.
*Al Haig served as Nixon’s Chief of Staff after H.R. Handleman was fired for the Watergate burglary. He also served as Reagan’s Secretary of State.