House hearing on Venezuela: Military intervention no, regime change yes

13 Feb, 2019

Trying to sell Congress on intervention in Venezuela, Trump administration’s controversial envoy Elliott Abrams faced tough questions from several lawmakers, but most seemed on board with regime change in Caracas.

Abrams faced the House Foreign Affairs committee at a hearing on Wednesday, for the first time since he was appointed special envoy for Venezuela by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month. Several lawmakers used the opportunity to raise his checkered past of spearheading US meddling in Central and South America, among them Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota).

Omar’s grilling of Abrams quickly gained traction in the media, albeit for different reasons. While critics of US meddling in Venezuela praised it, the Somalia-born lawmaker faced criticism from conservative quarters for calling Abrams “Mr. Adams,” and her inability to pronounce words such as “contra,” “pardoned,” “Salvador,” and “Communist.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) also brought up Abrams’s checkered past, asking the envoy if he was aware of any shipments of weapons to the US-backed Venezuelan opposition.

“I ask this question because you have a record of such actions,” Castro said, alluding to the fact that Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress in 1991 about his role in the Iran-Contra affair. “Can we trust your testimony today?”

At one point in the hearing, Abrams was heckled by antiwar activists from Code Pink, some of whom were physically removed from the chamber.

Committee chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) made sure to assert congressional power to declare war and argue that the Democrat-majority House will not approve an armed intervention in Venezuela.

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“I do worry about the president’s saber rattling, his hints that US military intervention remains an option. I want to make clear to our witnesses and to anyone else watching: US military intervention is not an option,” Engel said.

Most Democrats appeared on board with Trump’s regime change policy, however, so long as it could be done quickly and cheaply. Brad Sherman (D-California) was particularly interested in making sure the US-backed government doesn’t repay any of the loans Caracas has taken out from Russia, which Venezuela has been settling with oil shipments.

Meanwhile, Colombian President Ivan Duque was in Washington meeting with President Donald Trump.The two presidents released a joint statement pledging to “work with the Guaido government to restore freedom, democracy, and prosperity to Venezuela” and condemning the “illegitimate, former dictator of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro.”

Last month, Trump recognized the opposition politician Guaido as president of Venezuela, in a bid to oust the elected President Maduro. So far, 51 US allies around the world have recognized Guaido.

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