Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said authorities have arrested two U.S. citizens among a group of ‘mercenaries’ on Monday, a day after a beach raid purportedly aimed at capturing the socialist leader that authorities say they foiled.
During a press conference, Maduro held up a pair of blue U.S. passports, reading off the names and birth dates on them in a nationwide broadcast on state television, calling the arrested men ‘terrorist mercenaries.’
Maduro claimed that the men were trying to assassinate him, while an ex-Green Beret named Jordan Goudreau, who has claimed to have been leading the attempted coup, claimed the objective was to capture the president.
The president showed images of the fishing boats the alleged attackers rode in on and equipment like walkie-talkies and night-vision glasses collected in what Maduro called an ‘intense’ couple of days.
He blamed the attacks on the Trump administration, Venezuela’s opposition leader and neighboring Colombia, all of which have denied involvement.
‘The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid,’ Maduro said, praising members of a fishing village for cornering one group in the sweep netting the ‘professional American mercenaries.’
Speaking about the two U.S. citizens that have been captured, he said: ‘They were playing Rambo. They were playing hero,’ adding that Venezuelan authorities had caught wind of the plot before its execution.
Before dawn on Sunday, officials say the first attack started on a beach near Venezuela’s port city of La Guaira, when security forces made the first two arrests and killed eight others attempting to make a landing by speedboats.
On Monday, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro used a press conference to display the equipment that had allegedly been seized by Venezuelan armed forces after capturing the ‘mercenaries’
Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau (pictured center) said earlier on Monday that he was working with the two men on a mission intending to detain Maduro and ‘liberate’ Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for the operation
The two U.S. citizens arrested Monday were identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former U.S. special forces soldiers.
On Monday, Maduro accused Florida-based ex-Green Beret Goudreau of leading the incursion ‘with terrorist mercenaries trained in Colombia to assault Venezuela and try to kill me.’
Goudreau said earlier on Monday that he was working with the two men in a mission intended to detain Maduro and ‘liberate’ Venezuela. Goudreau has claimed responsibility for the operation.
The two served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the U.S. military, Goudreau said, adding that they were part of this alleged mission in Venezuela called ‘Operation Gideon.’ The aim was to capture Maduro.
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis under Maduro’s rule. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care have driven nearly 5 million to migrate.
But Maduro still controls all levers of power despite a U.S.-led campaign to oust him. It recently indicted Maduro as a drug trafficker and offered a $15 million reward for his arrest.
Maduro displayed walkie-talkies, passports, combat vests, credit cards and other military equipment when blaming the attempted attacks on the Trump administration
Eight suspects were arrested Monday in Chuao, a village on the northern coast of the state of Aragua. The Venezuelan government announced the individuals were part of a foiled plan to remove President Maduro
Venezuela and the United States broke diplomatic ties last year amid heightened tensions, so there is no U.S. embassy in Caracas. Officials from the U.S. State Department did not respond Monday to a request by The Associated Press for comment.
‘I’ve tried to engage everybody I know at every level,’ Goudreau said of the attempt to help his detained colleagues. ‘Nobody’s returning my calls. It’s a nightmare.’
Goudreau’s account of the confusing raid has at times seemed contradictory — for example, he says he was plotting a rebellion for months while claiming not to have received a single penny.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó on Monday denied having anything to do with Goudreau
Guaidó said in a statement that he has ‘no relationship nor responsibility for any actions’ taken by Goudreau, who repeated assertions that Guaidó had a contract with Silvercorp USA, the war veteran’s Florida-based security company, though he said he was paid only a tiny share of the amount agreed upon.
Venezuelan security forces escort one of eight individuals arrested Monday in Chuao, a village on the northern coast of the state of Aragua, who were participants of a plot to reportedly overthrow President Nicolás Maduro
Security forces guard the shore area and a boat in which authorities claim a group of armed men used to land in the port city of La Guaira, Venezuela on Sunday, May 3, 2020
Meanwhile, a self-aggrandizing Maduro has thrived broadcasting videos on state TV of what he says was a flawless defense of the nation’s sovereignty.
On Monday, Maduro said ‘The main objective was to kill the President of Venezuela,’ during a televised speech on state television. ‘A terrorist attack in the middle of a pandemic while our people rested one night.’
The government said it has mobilized more than 25,000 troops to hunt for other rebel cells.
Kay Denman, the mother of one of the Americans, said the last time she heard from her son was a few weeks when he texted her from an undisclosed location to ask how she was coping with the coronavirus pandemic.
She said she never heard her son discuss Venezuela and only learned of his possible capture there after his friends called when they saw the reports on social media.
‘The first time I heard Jordan Goudreau’s name was today,’ she said when reached at her home in Austin, Texas.
Goudreau has said he reached an agreement with the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, which Guaidó has denied. The opposition leader said he had nothing to do with Sunday’s raid.
Goudreau says Guaidó never fulfilled the agreement, but the former Green Beret pushed ahead with an underfunded operation with just 60 fighters, including the two U.S. veterans.
He said he last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were adrift in a boat ‘hugging’ the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat following an initial confrontation with the Venezuelan Navy early Sunday, he said.
‘They were running dangerously low on fuel,’ Goudreau said. ‘If they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.’
Goudreau said the two were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to help extract them.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido (pictured) said the government was seeking to distract from recent violent events including a deadly prison riot on Friday and a bloody Caracas gang battle on Saturday night
The ex green beret who masterminded foiled attack on Maduro
Monday’s arrests come after Maduro’s government on Sunday said mercenaries had attempted to enter the South American country on speed boats from neighboring Colombia, saying eight people had been killed and two detained.
Later on Sunday, Goudreau released a video identifying himself as an organizer of the invasion, alongside dissident Venezuelan military officer Javier Nieto.
Goudreau said in the video that fighters on the ground continued to carry out operations in different parts of the country.
He identified one of the fighters as ‘Commander Sequea,’ which appeared to be a reference to Antonio Sequea, who was identified on Monday by state television as one of the people arrested.
Silvercorp’s website describes Goudreau as a “highly decorated Special Forces Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.”
A Venezuelan state television anchor on Monday showed photos of men laid out on the ground with their hands behind their backs, adding that the group was traveling near the town of Chuao area in central Aragua state.
The group was ‘caught by popular force, by fishermen,’ the anchor said.
Cabello posted a video of men in black with balaclavas pulling a shirtless man from a helicopter, whom they identified as part of the group captured.
‘Without a doubt, the imperialists directed this attack against our fatherland,’ Cabello said on Twitter, in reference to the U.S. government.
A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said the U.S. government had no involvement with the incident. Another source familiar with U.S. intelligence analysis and reporting also said that U.S. agencies have nothing to do with any military incursions in Venezuela.
Goudreau, an ex-member of U.S. special forces, known colloquially as the Green Berets, is reportedly
On their website, Silvercorp says that the company ‘was founded with one prupose in mind. We provide governments and corporations with realistic and timely solutions to irregular problems’.
Venezuelan state TV showed showed images of several unidentified men handcuffed and lying prone in a street. One video clip showed authorities handling a shirtless man in handcuffs.
He was identified as a National Guardsman Capt. Antonio Sequea, who participated in a barracks revolt against Maduro a year ago. Goudreau said Sequea was a commander working with him in recent days on the ground in Venezuela.
Maduro ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that in total they’ve arrested 114 people suspected in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt of 92 others.
Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star U.S. combat veteran, claims to have helped organize the deadly seaborne raid from Colombia. Goudreau said the operation had received no aid from Guaidó or the U.S. or Colombian governments.
Opposition politicians and U.S. authorities issued statements suggesting Maduro’s allies had fabricated the assault to draw attention away from the country’s problems.
Goudreau said by telephone earlier Monday that 52 other fighters had infiltrated Venezuelan territory and were in the first stage of a mission to recruit members of the security forces to join their cause.
An AP investigation published Friday found that Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general — who now faces U.S. narcotics charges — to train dozens of deserters from Venezuela’s security forces at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross-border raid that would end in Maduro’s arrest.
Maduro ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said in a press conference (pictured) that in total they’ve arrested 114 people suspected in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt of 92 others
Both Colombia and the United States have repeatedly denied previous Venezuelan allegations of backing military plots against the socialist government.
‘We have little reason to believe anything that comes out of the former regime,’ said a spokesperson with the State Department Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, speaking Sunday on condition of anonymity, referring to Maduro’s government.
‘The Maduro regime has been consistent in its use of misinformation in order to shift focus from its mismanagement of Venezuela.’
Colombia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also rejected the claims made by what it called ‘Maduro’s dictatorial regime.’
Opposition leader Juan Guaido said the government was seeking to distract from recent violent events including a deadly prison riot on Friday and bloody Caracas gang battle on Saturday night.
‘The regime is seeking to divert attention with a supposed incident in La Guaira plagued with inconsistencies, doubts and contradictions,’ Guaidó’s press team said in a statement.
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis in recent years under Maduro’s rule. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care has driven nearly 5 million to migrate.
A group of protesters and relatives of prison inmates in Venezuela gather outside Los Llanos penitentiary after a riot erupted inside the prison leaving dozens of dead
Venezuela crisis: Which countries are supporting the opposition?
Support for Nicolas Maduro’s regime comes from Russia, China, Turkey, Mexico and Iran, wheres the EU, United States, Canada, Australia and neighbours Brazil recognise Juan Guaido as leader of Venezuela
Supporting ‘interim’ President Juan Guaido:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Costa Rica
- The EU 27
Supporting incumbent President Nicolas Maduro:
A coalition of nearly 60 nations backs opposition leader Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, saying Maduro’s 2018 election was a sham because the most popular opposition candidates were banned from running.
The United States has led a campaign to oust Maduro, increasing pressure in recent weeks by indicting the socialist leader as a narco-trafficker and offering a $15 million reward for his arrest.
The U.S. also has increased stiff sanctions, cutting off Venezuela’s oil sector to choke Maduro from a key source of hard cash.
Iván Simonovis, a former high-ranking Venezuelan police official who now advises opposition leaders on intelligence strategy from Washington, speculated on Twitter that there might have been a clash between security forces on Sunday and suggested Maduro’s government created the story of a plot to justify ‘repression against the interim government and any Venezuelan who opposes the dictatorship.’
But in addition to U.S. economic and diplomatic pressure, Maduro’s government has faced several small-scale military threats, including an attempt to assassinate Maduro with a drone and Guaidó’s call for a military uprising, which was joined by few soldiers.
Maduro has overseen a six-year economic crisis that has left many citizens unable to obtain basic food and medicine and forced nearly five million people to emigrate.
The United States and dozens of other countries disavowed Maduro after his disputed 2018 election, which they say was rigged. They instead recognize Guaidó, who is head of the country’s legislature.
But Maduro retains the backing of the country’s armed forces as well as countries including China and Russia, which have harshly criticized the U.S. sanctions.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that an apparently ill-funded attempt to amass an invasion force of 300 men in Colombia involving a former Venezuelan military officer and Goudreau, suffered setbacks in March when a main organizer was arrested, an arms cache was seized and some participants abandoned its camps.
Retired Venezuelan National Guard Capt. Javier Nieto Quintero appeared in a video with Goudreau, urging members of the armed forces to help liberate the nation in an action he called ‘Operation Gedeón.’
Nieto, when contacted by AP on a Miami telephone, declined to comment and hung up. Goudreau also declined to comment in a call from Caracas.
Cabello linked Sunday’s attack to key players in that alleged plot.
One of the men he said was killed, a man nicknamed ‘the Panther,’ had been identified as involved in obtaining weapons for the force in Colombia.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) released a wanted poster for Nicolas Maduro with a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the President’s arrest in March
Maduro and his allies say the Trump administration is determined to end Venezuela’s socialist government to exploit the South American nation’s vast underground oil reserves. Maduro remains in power, backed by the military and with international support from Cuba, Russia, China and Iran.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, speaking on state TV Sunday backed by armed soldiers and tanks units, called the attackers mercenaries who ‘don’t have souls. They’re cowards.’
Guaidó accused Maduro’s government of seizing on this example of unrest to draw the world’s attention away from embarrassing bloodshed in other parts of the country, including a prison riot days earlier that left at least 40 dead.
‘Of course, there are patriotic members of the military willing to fight for Venezuela,’ Guaidó said. ‘But it’s clear that what happened in Vargas is another distraction ploy.’
According to the Johns Hopkins University, Venezuela has seen 357 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 10 deaths resulting from the disease.
The U.N. has said Venezuela could be one of the most vulnerable countries due to the disease due to a lack of hygiene products and water is hospitals, compounded by the overall impoverishment of the population.
Why overthrowing Maduro in Venezuela would spell disaster for Putin
Russia is one of the key allies of Maduro’s regime and – according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – the only reason he is still in the country, after Moscow ordered him not to flee as protests broke in May 2019.
One of the main reasons that Putin is backing Maduro so heavily comes down to oil and the billions of dollars that the Kremlin has pumped into Venezuela’s drilling industry.
Russia and its state-owned oil giant Rosneft have invested almost $9billion in its Venezuelan counterpart PDVSA since 2009, while Moscow has also handed the country some $17billion in loans, underwritten by the oil reserves on which Maduro sits – the largest anywhere in the world.
Should control of the country swap to Guaido, who is backed by the US, then it is likely that Russia will never see another cent of this money repaid.
Meanwhile Venezuela is also a major buyer of Russian weapons, having purchased $11billion worth of tanks, missile defence systems, fighter jets and other small arms between 2005 and 2013.
The repayments on these weapons will almost certainly be lost if Guaido takes power, while any future weapons orders will likely be taken over by America.
Venezuela is also a major importer of Russia grain, and has ties to the country’s banking industry.
Perhaps more than resources and revenue, however, Russia is also keen to maintain a strategic and ideological foothold in America’s backyard, from which it can project its influence across the region.
As Mikael Wigell, a researcher from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told RFE/RL: ‘Establishing close relations with Venezuela gives Moscow a certain nuisance power in relation to the United States, and that can be used as a bargaining chip in future dealings with the United States.
‘It also can be kind of a showcase for Russia’s aspirations to be considered a global power.’