Pompeo taps hawkish GOP veteran to lead US efforts in Venezuela

Top US diplomat says Elliott Abrams, who was initially passed over by the administration due to criticism of Trump, will assist in ‘restoring democracy’ to Latin American country

Elliott Abrams (L) listens to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talk about Venezuela at the State Department in Washington, on Jan. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Elliott Abrams (L) listens to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talk about Venezuela at the State Department in Washington, on Jan. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo on Friday tapped Elliott Abrams, a central figure in Ronald Reagan’s controversial anti-communist campaigns in Central America, as a new envoy to “restore democracy” in Venezuela.

Pompeo announced the appointment of Abrams two days after Washington declared head of state Nicolas Maduro to be illegitimate and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of crisis-plagued Venezuela.

Pompeo said that Abrams “will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”

Abrams told reporters in brief remarks: “This crisis in Venezuela is deep and difficult and dangerous and I can’t wait to get to work on it.”

The veteran Republican foreign policy hand took charge of Latin America policy under Reagan, clashing with human rights groups as he channeled generous US support to anti-communist forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

In one notorious incident, he initially dismissed the massacre of nearly 1,000 civilians by the Salvadoran army at El Mozote in 1981.

Then Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 2, 1987 before a congressional committee holding hearings on the Iran-Contra affair. (AP Photo/John Duricka)

Abrams later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, when the Reagan administration secretly funded the Contra rebels in Nicaragua through arms sales to revolutionary Iran.

Abrams later returned as a senior adviser to president George W. Bush in charge of human rights and the Middle East.

But when Republicans returned to the White House with US President Donald Trump’s election, Abrams was initially passed over as the new administration shut out critics of the unorthodox new leader.

Abrams during the 2016 election had written a piece in The Weekly Standard magazine entitled, “When You Can’t Stand Your Candidate,” in which he argued that Trump “cannot win and should not be president of the United States.”

Venezuelans living in the Dominican Republic take part in a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who recently started his second term, in Bolivar Square in Santo Domingo, on January 23, 2019 (Erika SANTELICES / AFP)

Abrams, who is Jewish, is associated with neoconservatism, an ideology that favors interventionist foreign policies and democracy promotion around the globe — two core principles unaligned with Trump’s stated thinking. Abrams’ late wife, Rachel Decter Abrams, was the daughter of Norman Podhoretz, one of the movement’s founders.

Pompeo, one of Trump’s favorite cabinet members, assured that Abrams was on board Friday, saying the new envoy was “eager to advance President Trump’s agenda and promote the ideals and interests of the American people.”

Pompeo said that Abrams would join him Saturday as the secretary of state heads to New York for a special UN Security Council session on Venezuela.

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