Official convicted over Iran-Contra scandal appointed to help 'restore democracy' in Venezuela

Elliott Abrams withheld information from Congress over secret funding of paramilitaries

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 25 January 2019 18:02 GMT
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says US are behind media coup against him

The Trump administration has announced that Elliott Abrams, who was convicted over the Iran-Contra scandal in which the Ronald Reagan administration secretly funded paramilitary groups in Nicaragua, will lead the US’s efforts to press for democracy in Venezuela.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the 71-year-old would oversee Washington’s outreach, after Donald Trump declared he would recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, and not elected president Nicolas Maduro, as the nation’s legitimate ruler.

“Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country,” Mr Pompeo said, according to Reuters.

Mr Pompeo said Mr Abrams would accompany him to the United Nations on Saturday for a Security Council meeting on Venezuela where Washington will push other countries to recognise Mr Guaido as the country’s interim head of state. So far, Canada, Britain Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Organisation of American States, have done so.

Russia, China, El Salvador, Mexico and Turkey have said they believe Mr Maduro remains the president.

Reuters described Mr Abrams was a neoconservative who has long advocated an activist US role in the world. He last served in government in the George W Bush White House, first as a Middle East expert on the national security council and later as a global democracy strategy adviser.

He was assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration and was convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanour counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. He was later pardoned by President George HW Bush.

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For many Latin America watchers he will be associated with his denial of a 1982 massacre at El Mozote in El Salvador of hundreds of civilians by the military. Mr Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote “were not credible”.

In 1993, after a UN truth commission which examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, attributed 85 per cent of the abuses to the Reagan-assisted right-wing military and its death-squad allies, Mr Abrams said: “The administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.”

Meanwhile on Friday, the two men both claiming to be president of Venezuela made different appeals for support.

At a press conference in Caracas, Mr Guaido urged followers to stage another mass protest next week, according to the Associated Press.

“They can cut a flower, but they will never keep spring from coming,” said Mr Guaido, alluding to a similar phrase from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Mr Maduro spoke in the presidential palace before a room of journalists.

“This is nothing more than a coup d’etat, ordered, promoted, financed and supported by the government of the United States,” he said. ”They intend to put a puppet government in Venezuela, destroy the state and take colonial control of the country.”

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