When a reporter asked Elliott Abrams about complaints that the United States is interfering in Venezuela’s affairs, Abrams sidestepped the question and said Cuba is the meddler and had been sticking its nose in Venezuela’s business for “a long time.”
Abrams did not mention that the U.S. government has been trying to undermine the Cuban government for nearly 60 years.
Abrams said his aim is to give the Venezuelan people the power to interfere in their own internal affairs.
Abrams insisted that Juan Guaidó is the legitimate president of Venezuela. A reporter asked if he’d been properly “vetted.” Abrams said Guaidó’s leadership has been “really quite extraordinary.”
A reporter asked, “Mr. Abrams, isn’t it rather rich given your background — ”
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino cut him off.
“Excuse me, sir, no. No, no, no, no.”
It’s not clear what about Abrams’ background caught the reporter’s attention.
Abrams was implicated in the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. In 1991, he was convicted of unlawfully withholding information from Congress. George H.W. Bush later pardoned him.
The Trump administration pulled 71-year-old Abrams from the deep freeze on Jan. 25 and made him “special representative for Venezuela.”
Excerpts from the Feb. 7 press briefing are below:
MR ABRAMS: Instead of trying to accommodate Maduro through contact groups or dialogue, we urge countries to recognize Juan Guaido as interim president…
We urge all involved to deal solely with the legitimate Guaido government. The time for dialogue with Maduro has long passed.
The U.S. Government is coordinating with Guaido and his team of experts, other governments in the region, our humanitarian partners, on the logistics of deploying aid to mobilize a response efficiently and safely.
MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Bloomberg. Nick Wadhams.
QUESTION: Mr. Abrams, can you talk about what the U.S. has in mind for Nicolas Maduro himself? John Bolton tweeted that he’d be happy to see him on a beach somewhere. Would you care where he goes?
MR ABRAMS: The endgame for him should be to leave power, and the sooner the better. Because his own situation is only going to decline the longer he clings to power and the more misery there is in Venezuela.
QUESTION: But where would you like to see him go? Should he remain in Venezuela or leave the country?
MR ABRAMS: I think it is better for the transition to democracy in Venezuela that he be outside the country. And there are a number of countries that I think would be willing to accept him.
QUESTION: Which ones?
MR ABRAMS: Well, he’s got friends in places like Cuba and Russia, and there are some other countries actually that have come to us privately and said they’d be willing to take members of the current illegitimate regime if it would help the transition.
QUESTION: Can you name any?
MR ABRAMS: No.
MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Reuters.
QUESTION: Mr. Abrams, isn’t it rather rich given your background —
MR PALLADINO: Excuse me, sir, no. No. Give order. No, no, no, no.
QUESTION: Do we have a free press here or not?
QUESTION: Freedom and democracy. That what’s going on here?
QUESTION: Mr. Abrams, you’ve been accused of —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) rich for you to be talking about political riots and starving people (inaudible) —
QUESTION: When did the administration become aware of Mr. Guaido, and how long has he been – has the administration been working with Mr. Guaido?
MR ABRAMS: I can’t actually answer that question, because I’ve been here for too short a time.
QUESTION: And are you confident that he’s been sufficiently vetted, especially as this has gone on now for the last weeks?
MR ABRAMS: Yes, and I think – you know the pressure that he’s under. You saw the incident that happened just a few days ago, where police entered his own home, his apartment where his 20-month-old daughter was. Think of the pressures that he’s under. I think that the leadership that he is giving to the Venezuelan people is really quite extraordinary.
QUESTION: … there is a perception in China and in other countries that U.S. is interfering in domestic politics. What’s your response to those criticism?
MR ABRAMS: Well, there has been interference in the domestic politics of Venezuela for a long time, primarily by Cuba, which has a very large presence in Venezuela. If you look around at the now nearly 50 democracies that are supporting Interim-President Guaido and the National Assembly, it’s hard really to say that all of those countries are engaged in some kind of joint effort to interfere. What we’re trying to do is help Venezuelans create a system where, if you will, they can interfere in their own internal affairs, where their politics is in the hands of the Venezuelan people….
QUESTION: But don’t you think that if there are two presidents of Venezuela, neither of whom —
MR ABRAMS: There is only one president of Venezuela, and there is a former president of Venezuela.