What a recent failed coup attempt means for U.S.-Venezuela relations

On May 3, a small force of Venezuelan defectors and American mercenaries attempted to invade Venezuela and capture President Nicolás Maduro for extraction to the U.S. The mission, which planned to seize key ports and airports in the country was quickly thwarted by the Venezuelan military. Eight people were killed and 13 others were captured.  

Among those now being held in Venezuela are former U.S. Special Forces soldiers Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both of whom have now appeared in interrogation videos put out by the Venezuelan government. In these videos, Denman and Berry both point to Jordan Goudreau, an ex-Green Beret and current owner of private security firm SilverCorp, USA as one of the key figures behind this plot. 

According to Goudreau in the Washington Post, the alleged organizer of the invasion, the goal was to, “to liberate Venezuela [and] to capture Maduro, but the mission in Caracas failed…The secondary mission is to set up insurgency camps against Maduro. They are already in camps, they are recruiting and we are going to start attacking tactical targets.” 

Goudreau claims that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó not only knew of the plot, but was supportive of his efforts. According to the Washington Post, meetings from as far back as last September had members of Guaidó’s team working with Goudreau to secure funding and troops to oust Maduro. Although Guaidó denies any involvement or knowledge of the plan, leaked documents show that his signature on an agreement that specifically lays out plans to “capture/detain/remove Nicolás Maduro . . . remove the current Regime and install the recognized Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó.” President Maduro has claimed that his government knew about the attack well in advance, and given that the SilverCorp twitter account seemed to live-tweet the invasion, these claims may be accurate. Boasting about his military’s quick response, Maduro has used the failed operation as proof that he is the target of foreign “terrorist plots.” 

Waving what he claimed to be the two passports of Denman and Berry at a televised conference, Maduro alleged that President Trump must have known about the operation, claiming that, “the United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid.” Maduro seized this opportunity, which seemed to provide the embattled president with some valuable leverage in the face of crashing oil prices, economical failure, and a political crisis. 

In response, President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have rejected the idea that there was any official U.S. role in the operation. Last Wednesday, Pompeo denied accusations, saying that “there was no United States government direct involvement.” Going further, Pompeo said that, “if we had been involved, it would have gone differently. As for who bankrolled it, we’re not prepared to share any more information about what we know took place.” However, in his interrogation video, Luke Denman implied that the Trump administration had been in contact with Goudreau before the attack. Pompeo finished by pledging to work on ensuring the return of both Denman and Berry in the coming weeks. 

Whether or not the Trump administration had prior knowledge of Goudreau’s operation, the poor state of affairs in U.S.-Venezuelan relations is in no small part related to the current administration. The U.S.supports Guaidó in his effort to oust President Maduro, and in February hosted the opposition leader at the State of the Union address. Shortly after, Maduro was indicted in the United States on charges of narco-terrorism and drug trafficking at the same time that the administration announced a $15 million bounty on him. The intense pressure campaign the Trump administration has taken towards President Maduro has thus far failed to oust the leader who has been accused of violations of human rights, but not for lack of trying. 

While much is still unknown about the extent to which the opposition and the U.S. were involved in Goudreau’s operation, what’s clear is that the antagonistic relationship between the United States and Venezuela is likely to stay that way, at least for the foreseeable future. 

To read more about what is happening in Venezuela, click here.

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