Ex-U.S. soldiers, Venezuelan rebels and amphibious attacks: The story of a plot to topple Maduro

In the early morning of May 3, Venezuela’s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol appeared on television and claimed that security forces had foiled a “maritime invasion” by “terrorist mercenaries” who came from the Colombian coast. Details emerged soon after. According to the official version, a boat full of armed men was planning to land at the coast of Macuto, north of Caracas. But they were surrounded by helicopter gunships and snipers before they could reach the coast. In the ensuing shoot-out, eight of them were killed and two were captured.

U.S.-based security company

Later in the day, a video emerged online in which Jordan Goudreau, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier who’s now running a private security company Silvercorp USA based in Melbourne, Florida, claimed responsibility for the raid. He said the ‘mission’ was an ongoing one despite the capture of the boat. Silvercorp posted in a tweet on the same day, tagging U.S. President Donald Trump, that 60 Venezuelans and two American ex-soldiers were part of the strike force. The next day, the Venezuelan government announced that occupants of another boat were arrested, including two American citizens.

Also read: Ex-Green Beret led failed attempt to oust Venezuela’s Maduro

Mr. Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told a Venezuelan journalist that he had signed a contract with Juan Guaido, Venezuelan Opposition leader who the U.S. and several other western nations have acknowledged as the country’s legitimate leader, for the operation. In the interview, which has been posted on YouTube, he claimed that Mr. Guaido didn’t pay him according to the contract but he still continued with the plan because “he is a freedom fighter”. The plan was to enter Venezuela via sea and detain President Nicolas Maduro and other top political leadership and release political prisoners, according to Javier Quintero Nieto, a ‘commander’ of the rebels who appeared with Mr. Goudreau in the video.

The Silvercorp USA, established in 2018, describes itself as a company that provides “governments and corporations with realistic and military solutions to irregular problems”. The company’s website claims that it is present in over 50 countries. Silvercorp’s website and its Instagram page feature photos and videos of Mr. Goudreau and colleagues in military fatigue and carrying assault weapons.

The rebel General

On May 1, The Associated Press carried a report about a plot hatched between a rebel Venezuelan military officer and Mr. Goudreau. Cliver Alcala, a retired Major General in the Venezuelan Army, had been living in Colombia since 2018 after he fell out with the government of President Maduro. Gen. Alcala had the support of some 300 Venezuelan military dissenters, who were being trained in the Colombian forests. Mr. Goudreau and Gen. Alcala started working together in Colombia, apparently with the support of Mr. Guaido, the West-backed Venezuelan Opposition leader. Gen. Alcala’s plan was to send his men through the land border and ignite military revolts against the regime, leading to President Maduro’s ouster. “Goudreau told the volunteers that — once challenged in battle — Maduro’s food-deprived, demoralised military would collapse like dominoes,” several of the soldiers told AP.

But the plot crumbled in early March after one of the rebel combatants was held by the Venezuelan troops in the border region. Soon, Gen. Alcala surrendered to the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges. He is in federal custody in New York awaiting trial.

The plan goes on

But neither the collapse of the original plot nor the arrest of Gen. Alcala seemed to have deterred Mr. Goudreau from going ahead with the plan to topple President Maduro as this week’s incidents show. The two Americans arrested by the Venezuelan troops on Monday — Luke Alexander Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 42 — had served with Mr. Goudreau in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Venezuelan government has claimed that the U.S. government “is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid”.

The Venezuelan government had information about Mr. Goudreau. In late March, Diosdado Cabello, arguably the second most powerful man in Venezuela, showed a picture of Mr. Goudreau in a television programme and claimed that he was plotting against the government. “We knew everything. What they talked about. What they ate and drank. Who financed them,” President Maduro said on Monday after the Americans were captured. President Trump has denied the allegation of American involvement.

“This is the second coup attempt against the Chavista government. The first in 2002 failed because of underestimation of the military which had become a stakeholder in the regime and the hasty rush of the coup plotters to share the spoils prematurely. This time, the gang of mercenaries had underestimated the Cuban intelligence which is advising Venezuela, with its successful record in thwarting many such attempts against Cuba itself,” R. Viswanathan, a former Indian Ambassador to Venezuela, told The Hindu.

But Mr. Goudreau seemed unperturbed by the capture of his men by the Venezuelans. In the interview with the Venezuelan journalist, he claimed that he has active ‘cells’ within Venezuela and his plan was to start a rebellion against the regime. Asked about the wisdom of sending a few dozen armed people to Venezuela on fishing boats to oust its government, Mr. Goudreau invoked Alexander the Great. Referring to the Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander attacked the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 331 BC, he said: “Completely outnumbered. He struck to the heart of the enemy, and he won.” But Mr. Goudreau didn’t.


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