Early May 3, the Nicolas Maduro administration confronted and defeated an attempted armed invasion on the coast of the state of La Guaira, 11 km (7 miles) north of Caracas.
Authorities stated that eight of the rebels had been killed and two others arrested. Another eight armed men were captured along the coast of Aragua state, among them two US citizens, May 4. Including later operations along the Venezuelan north-central coast, at least 13 men have been arrested by security personnel loyal to the Maduro administration. Maduro considers the events to be a failed terrorist attempt to remove him from office and install National Assembly President Juan Guaidó in his place. Guaidó is recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate and interim leader by the US, most members of the European Union, Colombia, Brazil, and over 50 governments worldwide.
While events on the ground were developing, a former US Army Special Forces sergeant and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Jordan Goudreau, revealed to multiple media outlets that he was one of the leaders of the operation. He said that the plan was still unfolding, with additional armed units in several locations throughout Venezuela. Goudreau stated that the operation was known, and at least initially supported, by Guaidó himself.
An Operation One Year in the Making
Guaidó has denied all links to the operation; however, members of his interim administration admitted having met and spoken with Goudreau.
Goudreau heads the Florida-based security firm Silvercorp USA and has been exposed to the political crisis in Venezuela since early 2019, when his company provided security for a pro-Guaidó concert in the Venezuela-Colombia border. In the following months, he lobbied people close to US President Donald J. Trump’s administration, and with Venezuelan exiles, seeking support for an operation to oust Maduro.
While his attempts to get US government support appear to have failed, he contacted Cliver Alcalá, a retired Venezuelan Major General who after years of supporting Nicolás Maduro, and especially his predecessor Hugo Chávez, had turned on the administration and was living in exile in Colombia. By mid-2019, Alcalá was training several hundred Venezuelan soldiers who had defected to Colombia in rejection of Maduro’s administration. Goudreau said he and his company could advise the men, and by September he was meeting , a political strategist whom Guaidó named as member of a Strategy Committee to support the interim government. Goudreau presented his plan to enter Venezuela with a select group of men, to capture Maduro and other key members of his administration. Rendón said that he and Sergio Vergara, another close ally of Guaidó, signed an agreement with Goudreau, and eventually paid him USD 50,000 to cover some expenses, but soon after they cut communications with him, as there was no evidence he was raising the funds for the operation, nor that he had the 800 armed men he had previously indicated.
Despite additional setbacks, the operation was never called off. In March 2020, authorities in Colombia seized a truck filled with weapons and equipment. Alcalá later said those belonged to him and his men. Days later, Alcalá was indicted by the US Department of Justice on drug-trafficking charges; he surrendered himself to Colombian officials and is now in US custody. The Associated Press published a report revealing the plans of the operation just as it was getting underway.
Two boats with approximately 60 men sailed from Riohacha, in the northern coast of Colombia, headed towards Venezuela May 1. The first boat, with approximately 10 men, was the one intercepted in La Guaira early May 3, while the second boat was the one intercepted in Aragua May 4. It is unknown if, as Goudreau has said, there are other members of the operation throughout Venezuela; no further combat has been reported. The two US citizens arrested in Aragua, also former US Army Special Forces members, have told Venezuelan authorities that Goudreau works for Trump. However, US officials have denied any involvement in the operation, and the allegation is likely to have been fabricated as a propaganda tool.
A Deepening of the Venezuelan Crisis
The failed armed operation is the latest of several attempts to remove Maduro by force in recent years. Since 2017, at least six uprisings, mutinies, or assassination attempts against Maduro have failed. While similar actions in the coming months cannot be ruled out, as the economic crisis in the country continues to worsen, Maduro’s position as ruler of Venezuela has been consolidated, as military and special police forces once again prove their loyalty and capacity to defend him. All the forceful attempts to remove him have been composed of small groups, and hundreds of potential plotters have been arrested in the process. Persecution, both of military members and of civilian leadership, is likely to increase in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Guaidó’s position continues to weaken. While more than 50 countries still consider him the legitimate president of Venezuela, the involvement of members of his administration in the failed armed attack, despite Guaidó’s denials, is likely to significantly hurt his credibility, both in the international community and among the Venezuelan people. The dominance shown by Maduro’s allies in the intelligence and military communities reduce incentives for further military uprisings, and calls for street protests have not had widespread responses in recent months. The COVID-19 pandemic has isolated Guaidó even further, as the population follows the policies imposed by the Maduro administration, while he increases military and police deployment throughout the country, and attacks independent journalists, human rights organizations, and political rivals.
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