CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – A former Green Beret has claimed responsibility for a failed attack Sunday aimed at overthrowing Venezuelan President NicolÃ¡s Maduro that the socialist government said ended with eight people dead.
Jordan Goudreauâ€™s comments in an interview with an exiled Venezuelan journalist capped a bizarre day that started with reports of a pre-dawn amphibious raid near the South American country’s heavily guarded capital.
An AP investigation published Friday found that Goudreau had been working with a retired army general now facing U.S. narcotics charges to train dozens of deserting Venezuelan soldiers at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross border raid that would end in Maduroâ€™s arrest.
But from the outset the ragtag army lacked funding and U.S. government support, all but guaranteeing defeat against Maduroâ€™s well-equipped if demoralized armed forces. It also appears to have been penetrated by Maduro’s extensive Cuban-backed intelligence network.
Both Goudreau and retired Venezuelan Capt. Javier Nieto declined to speak to the AP on Sunday when contacted after posting a video from an undisclosed location saying they had launched an anti-Maduro putsch called â€œOperation Gideon.â€ Both men live in Florida.
â€œA daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas,â€ Goudreau, in a New York Yankees ball cap, said in the video standing next to Nieto who was dressed in armored vest with a rolled-up Venezuelan flag pinned to his shoulder. â€œOur units have been activated in the south, west and east of Venezuela.â€
Goudreau said 60 men were still on the ground inside Venezuela and fighting under the command of Venezuelan National Guardsman Capt. Antonio Sequea. He said he hoped to join the rebels soon and invited Maduro’s troops to join the would-be insurgency although there was no sign of any unrest in the capital or elsewhere as night fell.
In an interview later with Miami-based journalist Patricia Poleo, he presented a contradictory account of his activities and the support he claims to have once had — and then lost — from Juan GuaidÃ³, the opposition leader recognized as Venezuelaâ€™s interim president by the U.S. and some 60 countries.
He provided to Poleo what he said was an 8-page contract signed by GuaidÃ³ and two political advisers in Miami in October for $213 million. The alleged â€œgeneral servicesâ€ contract doesnâ€™t specify what work his company, Silvercorp USA, was to undertake.
There was no immediate comment from GuaidÃ³ on Goudreauâ€™s claim that the two had signed a contract. Previously, GuaidÃ³ has said that he hadnâ€™t signed any contract for a military incursion.
Goudreau said he never received a single penny from the GuaidÃ³ team and instead the Venezuelan soldiers he was advising had to scrounge for donations from Venezuelan migrants driving for car share service Uber in Colombia.
â€œItâ€™s almost like crowdfunded the liberating of a country,” he said.
Despite not receiving a single penny, Goudreau says he continued to prepare the volunteers for battle, believing in their cause and capabilities. He said everything he did was legal but in any case he’s prepared to pay the cost for anything he did if it saves the lives of Venezuelans trying to restore their democracy.
â€œIâ€™ve been a freedom fighter my whole life. This is all I know,â€ said Goudreau, who is a decorated three-time Bronze Star recipient for courage in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a special forces medic.
The governmentâ€™s claims that it had foiled a beach landing Sunday triggered a frenzy of confusing claims and counterclaims about the alleged plot. While Maduro’s allies said it had been backed by GuaidÃ³, Colombia and the U.S., the opposition accused Maduro of fabricating the whole episode to distract attention from the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.
â€œThose who assume they can attack the institutional framework in Venezuela will have to assume the consequences of their action,â€ said socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, adding that one of two captured insurgents claimed to be an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Authorities said they found Peruvian documents, high-caliber weapons, satellite phones, uniforms and helmets adorned with the U.S. flag. Officials said the attack took place on a beach in La Guaira, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Caracas.
Both U.S. and Colombian officials dismissed the Venezuelan allegations.
â€œWe have little reason to believe anything that comes out of the former regime,â€ said a State Department spokesperson, referring to Maduro’s government. â€œThe Maduro regime has been consistent in its use of misinformation in order to shift focus from its mismanagement of Venezuela.â€
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.
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.
But in addition to U.S. economic and diplomatic pressure, Maduroâ€™s government has faced several small-scale military threats, including an attempt to assassinate Maduro with a drone in 2018 and GuaidÃ³â€™s call for a military uprising a year ago.
Cabello linked Sundayâ€™s attack to key players in the alleged plot led by Goudreau and Ret. Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcala, who is now in U.S. custody awaiting trial. One of the men he said was killed, nicknamed â€œthe Panther,â€ had been identified as involved in obtaining weapons for the covert force in Colombia.
GuaidÃ³ accused Maduroâ€™s government of seizing on this example of unrest to draw the worldâ€™s attention away from embarrassing bloodshed in other parts of the country, including a prison riot days earlier that left at least 40 dead.
â€œOf course, there are patriotic members of the military willing to fight for Venezuela,â€ GuaidÃ³ said. â€œBut itâ€™s clear that what happened in Vargas is another distraction ploy.”
Goodman reported from Miami, Florida.