When I heard that, at a hearing on Venezuela, the House Foreign Affairs Committee had held an explosive session on death squads and human rights, I was relieved. Finally, I thought, U.S. politicians were beginning to pay attention to the slaughter of Venezuelans that the regime of Nicolás Maduro has carried out in the past few years.
Dozens have been murdered in recent weeks alone for protesting against Maduro. Most of the killings have been committed by a police unit, a death-squad called the Special Actions Force, or FAES, notorious for its ski masks and extreme violence.
For years, the regime had pitched the unit as a gruesome kind of crime-fighting policy — a quick-and-dirty death penalty with cops playing the role of judge, jury and executioner. This resulted in more than 8,200 extrajudicial executions between 2015 and June 2017, according to Amnesty International.
This year, as anti-regime protests have spread, the FAES death squads have turned nakedly political, with the same units that cut their teeth killing suspected criminals with impunity turning on people suspected of holding political protests against the regime. The spread of death-squad tactics has been one of the most stomach-churning aspects of this year’s political crisis — with mass fear spreading through poorer areas and just a handful of victims daring to come forward and tell their stories on the record.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that, instead of this mass slaughter, a back-and-forth in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing revolved around political violence committed decades ago and a thousand miles away from the country the committee was supposedly discussing. And that rather than standing up to Maduro’s death squads, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) had used an exchange with the Trump administration’s envoy to pressure the United States to do nothing at all to rein them in.
In a grotesque display of contempt for the Venezuelan mothers grieving for their children the Maduro regime has murdered in recent weeks, Omar chose to use her stage to attack the U.S. envoy, Elliott Abrams, for decades-old abuses in Central America. Showcasing astonishing insensitivity to the victims of a human rights catastrophe that is still ongoing today, she disgraced her perch in Congress and scored an invaluable propaganda victory to the regime sponsoring the exact type of human rights abuses she imagines herself to be opposing.
Today, across Venezuela, the victims of Maduro’s death squads are grieving. Omar, and all Americans rightly appalled by the use of such terror tactics, ought to be on their side.