Elliott Abrams – the perfect criminal

The new US Special Envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, has an extensive history of promoting the destabilisation of progressive governments around the world. A strident anti-communist, Abrams has funded death squads across Latin America and supported regimes involved in atrocious violations of human rights. Ria Aibhilin reports.

Abrams started his political career in the Democratic Party, working on the McCarthyite Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1975. After failing to be chosen for any of the top jobs in Jimmy Carter’s administration, in 1980 he switched sides and campaigned for Ronald Reagan. He soon rose through Republican ranks to become Assistant Secretary of State for International Organisation Affairs in 1981. Within a few months he had been promoted to oversee human rights and humanitarian affairs. He later joined both Bush administrations, helping the second to orchestrate the coup-attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002 and the Iraq war in 2003.

Despite denouncing Trump during the 2016 election campaign, it appears there was nobody better suited to lead the attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government in Venezuela than Abrams. Few others have worked so diligently to safeguard US interests in Latin America.

El Salvador

Abrams presided over the transfer of military and economic aid to the fascist military dictatorship in El Salvador during his first State Department role.

The Salvadoran army, many of whom trained in the US Army’s ‘School of the Americas’, went on to use US weapons to barbarically slaughter over 900 unarmed peasants, including 140 children, in the 1981 El Mozote massacre. Girls as young as ten were raped; babies had their fingernails pulled out; children were hanged from trees. The next day Abrams assumed the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Here he began attempts to cover up the massacre by shrugging it off as ‘communist propaganda’.

Abrams recently spoke of his work in El Salvador as a ‘fabulous achievement’. The bloody war there fomented by the United States resulted in over 80,000 murdered Salvadorans. As New Republic put it in 1984, the conviction that ‘military aid must go forth no matter how many are murdered, lest the Marxist-Leninist guerrillas win’.


Soon after Efrain Rios Montt launched a coup in Guatemala in 1982, the US State Department received a document detailing accounts of systematic torture and murder of the Indigenous population and supposed leftist-sympathisers by his army. It went ignored.

Montt had played a role in the 1954 CIA-backed coup to oust the leftist government of Jacobo Arbenz and was committed to wiping out ‘communist subversion’. He believed Guatemala’s indigenous people should be targeted as those most susceptible to this subversion due to their ‘immaturity’. In 1983 Abrams oversaw the provision of over $6m in material aid to the regime.

Abrams defended this decision by insisting the regime had brought ‘considerable progress’ to Guatemala, the kind that ‘needs to be encouraged and rewarded’. In 2013 Montt was tried and convicted of genocide for his crimes against the country’s indigenous population.

The collusion between Guatemalan death squads and US agencies under the Reagan administration went so far as having employees of the CIA working directly in Guatemala to offer covert assistance to the Guatemalan military intelligence service (G2). The top officials in the G2, who orchestrated hundreds of thousands of assassinations and disappearances, were on the US payroll. Meanwhile Abrams was working furiously to provide all the financial assistance he could.


Abrams is perhaps most well-known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair. In this he bypassed a Congress ban on arms sales to the Nicaraguan right-wing militias, the Contras, hoping they could defeat the socialist Sandinistas.

Following the Nicaraguan Revolution in 1979, the Sandinistas had introduced agrarian reform acts adverse to US interests. The Reagan administration was disturbed by what it considered the possibility of ‘another Cuba’. It set about training the Contras in 1981 with the purpose of overthrowing the Sandinista government. The Contras were accused of committing human rights violations by international amnesty bodies and funding them was subsequently banned by Congress in 1985.

Abrams, however, had dedicated himself to be ‘the first guy who reverses a Communist revolution’. To do so he facilitated $10m in arms sales to Iran, which was under an arms embargo by the US, planning to use the money to continue funding the Contras illegally. Abrams was also involved in an operation to smuggle $27m of military aid to the Contras under the front of a humanitarian aid programme.

When caught in 1986, Abrams insisted ‘we are not doing that’. He was later found guilty of lying to Congress on two counts but was quickly pardoned by fellow war-criminal George H W Bush.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 269 April/May 2019


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