‘I am not going to respond to that question,’ Elliott Abrams said after being grilled on foreign policies that destabilized Latin America
Rather than being silenced by the controversy around her tweets, Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar emerged swinging at Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, sharply challenging the Trump administration’s new special envoy to Venezuela over his checkered political career.
Elliott Abrams was appointed US special envoy for Venezuela at the end of January to help coordinate the US response to the political crisis in that country. But his appointment raised concerns for human rights advocates.
Abrams worked as an assistant secretary of state for human rights and assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs in the Reagan administration, at a time US foreign policy in Latin America destabilized the region. He was widely criticized for shrugging off reports about the massacre of a thousand men, women and children by US-funded death squads in El Salvador.
In 1991, Abrams admitted to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-Contra affair, and was pardoned by President George HW Bush in 1992.
Omar referenced his guilty pleas on Wednesday, saying, “I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.”
“If I could respond to that – ” Abrams said.
“That was not a question,” Omar said, cutting him off.
Omar continued, bringing the focus to the 1981 El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. “You later said that the US policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement’,” Omar said. “Yes or no: do you still think so?”
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy,” Abrams said. “That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Omar responded: “Yes or no: Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?”
“That’s a ridiculous question, and I will not respond to it,” Abrams said, visibly agitated.
“Yes or no?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Moving on, Omar questioned Abrams about the policies he’d support in Venezuela.
“Yes or no: would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide if you believe they were serving US interests, as you in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?”
“I am not going to respond to that question,” Abrams said, crossing his arms angrily. “I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, so I will not reply. I’m sorry.”
“Whether under your watch, a genocide will take place and you will look the other way because American interests are being upheld is a fair question,” Omar said. “The American people want to know that any time we engage a country that we think about what our actions could be and how we believe our values are being furthered. That is my question. Will you make sure that human rights are not violated and we uphold international and human rights?”