A bizarre armed raid on the rocky coastline of Venezuela at the weekend purportedly involving two U.S. army veterans, ended of abject failure, and has only served to give more ammunition to allegations of dirty tricks by the Trump administration to bring about regime change.
The outlaw regime of Nicolás Maduro wasted no time on Monday to declare the incident as a “mercenary” attack by forces in the pay of Washington that resulted in eight deaths and the alleged arrest of two Americans.
Venezuela authorities said they arrested two U.S. citizens among a group of “mercenaries” on Monday, a day after the foiled coastal raid that left purportedly aimed to capture the socialist leader.
Maduro delighted in holding up a pair of blue U.S. passports, reading the names on state television, as well as seized walkie-talkies and night-vision goggles.
"A Rambo-type war"
“GoPro on their helmets, a Rambo-type war. [US] badges for their uniforms, who were they fighting for? For Donald Trump”, Maduro said, praising members of a fishing village for acting swiftly to alert authorities. “ The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid,” he added.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the United States had nothing to do with the alleged incursion.
“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump told reporters in Washington before departing from the White House to Arizona. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”
Calling it a "melodrama," the U.S. State Department said "we are making efforts to learn more," about the activities of the two U.S. citizens as well as the alleged ringleader, a decorated former U.S. Special Forces soldier.
The incident was reminiscent of the days when Cuban exiles in South Florida were constantly plotting attacks against the Cuban government of Fidel Castro - with and without the help of the CIA - including rocket attacks on hotels on Havana’s seafront.
“Frankly, this seems a lot worse than the Cubans back in the day. Beyond Keystone Cops kind of stuff,” said Frank Mora, a Latin America expert at Florida International University and the former top Pentagon official for the region. “The more I read about it, the more it seems fictional. Like someone is playing with me,” he added.
Details of Sunday’s incident remain sketchy. Before dawn on Sunday, Venezuela officials say the attack started on a beach near Venezuela’s port city of La Guaira, when security forces say they made two arrests and killed eight others after they came ashore in speedboats.
The two U.S. citizens arrested Monday were identified as Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, both former U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers, apparently linked to a Florida security firm, Silvercorp USA, which claims to work with law enforcement, as well as elite military units such as including Delta Force and the British SAS.
On Sunday, the owner of Silvercorp USA, Jordan Goudreau, also a retired Special Forces ‘Green Beret’, posted a video on social media to announce that ‘ Operation Gideon’ had been successfully launched as part of a nationwide plot to detain Maduro and “liberate” Venezuela.
" A daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas," said Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star U.S. combat veteran, who was sporting a New York Yankees baseball cap. Goudreau appeared in the video with a retired Venezuelan army captain, Javier Nieto, and said the two served with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan U.S. military.
(Gideon was a military leader and prophet who appears in the Bible.)
Media photos taken by the Associated Press show a small and abandoned boat lying on the rocks.
Venezuelan state TV also showed images of several unidentified men handcuffed and lying face down in the street, allegedly including the two captured Americans, one bearded and with tattoos on his arms.
Another video showed a line of detainees on a sea wall, next to some navy ships.
Univision tried to contact Goudreau but he did not respond to phone messages.
Goudreau said 60 of his men were still operating under the command of Venezuelan National Guardsman Capt. Antonio Sequea, who participated in a barracks revolt against Maduro a year ago.
Goudreau said he last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were in a boat off the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.
“They were running dangerously low on fuel,” Goudreau said.
But, Interior Nestor Reverol said on state television that Venezuelan forces easily repelled the armed maritime incursion by boats through the port city of La Guaira from neighboring Colombia before dawn Sunday.
Contact with Guaidó
Goudreau also claims he signed a military contract with Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized as Venezuela's interim president by the U.S. and some 60 countries.
In a statement, Guaidó has denied any “relationship with or responsibility for the actions” of Goudreau and Silvercorp USA.
However, in an interview with exiled Venezuelan journalist, Patricia Poleo, Goudreau claimed to have had initial support from Guaido. He provided to Poleo what he said was a contract signed by Guaidó and two political advisers in Miami in October for $213 million.
But Goudreau conceded that the agreement never went ahead. Univision was unable to confirm the authencity of the contract.
Despite international sanctions and the collapse of its state-run oil industry, Maduro still controls power in Venezuela. The Trump administration indicted Maduro in March naming him as a drug trafficker and offered a $15 million reward for his arrest.
Guaidó and other Venezuelan opposition figures accused Maduro of trying to exaggerate U.S. support for the incident to distract from the country's problems. Maduro and his officials have frequently denounced alleged coup plots and supposed assassination attempts in recent years as the country has sunk deeper into crisis.
The U.S. State Department said it " there is a major disinformation campaign underway by the Maduro regime, making it difficult to separate facts from propaganda."
It added: "We will also be looking closely into the role of the Maduro regime in this melodrama and especially of the very large Cuban intelligence apparatus in Venezuela. The record of falsehoods and manipulation by Maduro and his accomplices, as well as their highly questionable representation of the details, argues that nothing should be taken at face value when we see the distorting of facts."
While there have been several attempts at armed uprisings, and at least one apparent assassination attempt involving drones, the Maduro regime has failed to produce convincing evidence in many other cases.
An AP investigation published Friday found that Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general, Cliver Alcala, now facing U.S. narcotics charges to train dozens of deserters from Venezuela's security forces at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia.
AP said it found no evidence of U.S. involvement with Goudreau and Silvercorp.