Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), fresh off a rebuke from her own party for anti-Semitic remarks, stirred new controversy by personally attacking the U.S. special envoy to Venezuela during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. The heated exchange between Omar and Elliott Abrams over Reagan-era foreign policy allowed Omar to avoid discussing her apparent support for the current authoritarian regime run by Nicolas Maduro.
The hearing, held Wednesday, was ostensibly about the U.S. response to the escalating humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Omar began by addressing Abrams as “Mr. Adams.” (One can only imagine how she would have proceeded had she known he is Jewish.)
She then asked why the committee should believe Abrams’ testimony in light of his prior guilty plea to withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal (a misdemeanor for which he paid a $50 fine and performed community service). At least, this appears to have been the question; Omar, stumbling over her prepared talking points, called it “Iran-Cortra.”
Abrams attempted to respond, but Omar continued to speak over him, with Abrams interjecting: “It is not right that members of this committee can attack a witness who is not permitted to reply.”
Omar proceeded to recount Abrams’ 1982 testimony as assistant secretary of state, which downplayed the 1981 El Mozote massacre in which 800 civilians were killed during the civil war in El Salvador. Omar asked: “You said that U.S. policy in El Salvador was a fabulous achievement. Yes or no. Do you still think so?”
Abrams answered: “From the day that President [José] Duarte was elected in a free election to this day, El Salvador has been a democracy. That’s a fabulous achievement.”
Frustrated by this response, Omar disingenuously followed up: “Yes or no; do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?”
“That is a ridiculous question, and – no!” Abrams replied.
Still unsatisfied, Omar simply put words in his mouth: “I will take that as a yes.”
Omar’s childish display may have fired up her coterie of far-left followers on social media. It probably delighted the Code Pink protesters there to disrupt Abrams’ testimony. It is far less clear that the Democratic Party wants to be in the position of revisiting President Reagan’s largely successful prosecution of the Cold War in Central America, given that Democratic leadership was often sympathetic to the Soviet-backed socialist dictatorships Reagan was fighting.
Moreover, Omar’s verbal assault on Abrams allowed her to obscure her views on Maduro’s ruinous reign in Venezuela. In a recent report, Amnesty International found Maduro’s government responsible for “one of the worst human rights crisis in [Venezuela’s] history,” including almost 8,300 extrajudicial killings between 2015 and 2017.
According to Amnesty: “[T]he government has failed to prevent armed violence and investigate other human rights violations in the country. Instead, Venezuelan authorities have publicly stated that killing people in the context of security operations is a successful practice.”
Similarly, Human Rights Watch found that during prior crackdowns on protest, the Maduro regime “committed systematic abuses against critics, including torture.” Security forces have engaged in beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation, and sexual assault against detainees. These abuses were so widespread that the governments of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru took the unprecedented step of referring Venezuela to the International Criminal Court for investigation.
Even more recently, HRW found Maduro’s thugs have detained and tortured military personnel accused of plotting against the government, as well as their family members. Last year, independent experts retained by the Organization of American States found reasonable grounds exist to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela dating to the outset of Maduro’s reign. The report finds more than 12,000 Venezuelans have been arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, or subjected to severe deprivations of physical liberty since the 2013 presidential elections, at least 1,300 of whom are identified as political prisoners.
Deteriorating human rights and security conditions have caused an estimated 2.3 million people to flee Venezuela since 2014, potentially destabilizing its neighbors. The once oil-rich country has been wracked by severe shortages of food and medicine after years of socialist misrule by Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
As Commentary’s Noah Rothman recounts: “In 2015, when the opposition won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, Maduro simply created a new legislature and packed it with loyalists. When the Assembly balked, Maduro had Venezuela’s rubber-stamp Supreme Court strip the Assembly of its powers – a move that led most of the region to break off relations with the rogue regime.” In 2017, Maduro held a fraudulent referendum to ratify his assumption of dictatorial power.
The Trump administration backs opposition leader Juan Guaido, the legitimately elected leader of the National Assembly, who constitutionally claims to serve as interim president of the nation. Approximately 50 other countries also back Guaido, the result of the administration’s impressive diplomatic effort.
What is Omar’s position on Venezuela? As she chose not to engage Abrams on the subject, we turn to her preferred method of communication, Twitter:
A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump's efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican's efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 25, 2019
The dishonesty in this tweet is at least threefold. President Trump is not backing a coup. Guaido has a legitimate claim to be interim president of Venezuela. Perhaps silliest of all, Guaido is not a far-right politician. To the contrary, Guaido’s Voluntad Popular party was admitted to the Socialist Internationale in 2014. It is a social-democratic organization formed in opposition to the human rights abuses perpetrated by Chavez and Maduro.
Moreover, Omar also opposes sanctions against the rogue Maduro regime:
Trump's new sanctions on Venezuela are nothing more than economic sabotage designed to force regime change by starving the very people we claim to be helping. We must lift these, & other sanctions impacting Venezuela's poor, & support dialogue between the opposition & government. https://t.co/hjOUseW1B6
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 28, 2019
The mass starvation in Venezuela should have provided a hint to Omar that Maduro and his cronies were not using the nation’s oil riches for the benefit of its people, but apparently this eludes her every bit as much as the Maduro regime’s blockage of food aid.
Accordingly, when Omar excoriates Abrams for his record on human rights in Central America during the Cold War, keep in mind she shows no regard for the extensive human rights abuses the Maduro regime commits today. Apparently, Omar tolerates large-scale abuses when they are committed by a far-left thug propped up by Russia, China, and Cuba. House Democratic leadership may soon wish for the days when Omar’s anti-Semitism was the only political embarrassment she was bringing upon them.