An incursion into Venezuela, straight out of Hollywood

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia – A disillusioned group of Venezuelan politicians and military deserters met in secret last year to plot the overthrow of Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro. They determined that they would need four tools to succeed: men, money, a plan and guts.

Jordan G. Goudreau, American citizen and former green beret, would be the guts. At least it’s a version of history.

Over the weekend, a group of self-proclaimed freedom fighters set sail for Colombia to Venezuela as part of an apparent mission by Mr. Goudreau to overthrow the Venezuelan government. The operation failed miserably and the men were apprehended by the authorities. Eight rebels were killed. Two Americans, former members of the United States Special Forces, were arrested.

But the character who emerged as the central character of what an official described as something on a Hollywood script, is Mr. Goudreau, 43, who was not on a mission.

The Maduro administration attributed responsibility for the attack to the United States government, which denied any connection to Mr. Goudreau or his Florida-based security company SilverCorp. The company says it has entered into a $ 220 million deal with the Venezuelan opposition to help oust Maduro.

Mr. Goudreau, who boasted of his involvement in the attack on Twitter and YouTube, has become an international curiosity, observers around the world wondering what a decorated soldier did who made several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to lead a foreign insurgency.

“We have always understood that he was a strong man who had won many awards,” said Hernán Alemán, a Venezuelan lawmaker who said he helped raise funds for the plot. “We needed someone who had that kind of courage.”

Over the past year, Mr. Goudreau, who was born in Canada but has US citizenship, helped develop a bold plan to oust Mr. Maduro, a leader known for overseeing the economic downturn of his country, and for to have imprisoned and tortured those who cross it. .

Thirteen of the men were placed in police custody, including the two American citizens, both former Green Berets who were allegedly recruited by Mr. Goudreau.

State television broadcast photographs of the alleged prisoners, face down on the sidewalk. “They were playing Rambo,” said Maduro, who used the failed attack to project national force.

In an interrogation video released by the Venezuelan government, Luke Denman, one of the captured Green Berets, said that he was “helping Venezuelans regain control of their country” and that he should be paid between 50,000 and $ 100,000 for his efforts.

Venezuelan lawmaker Alemán said Goudreau had not participated in the raid because he had been prevented by border closures related to the coronavirus from traveling to Colombia to join his men. Instead, Mr. Goudreau, who lives in Florida, stayed in the United States.

In Venezuela, Mr. Goudreau is considered an executioner selling a suicide mission to desperate Venezuelans, as well as a hero determined to liberate the nation.

He said the attack was the result of a multi-million dollar deal he had signed with the Venezuelan opposition, a group politically supported by the United States. In recent weeks, the State Department has offered $ 15 million for information leading to Mr. Maduro’s detention.

At a press conference in Washington this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to discuss who might have funded the plot and said the US government was not “directly involved”.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó also denied any relationship with Mr. Goudreau. But one of his advisers, J.J. Rendón, told the New York Times that Mr. Guaidó had in fact made a deal with Mr. Goudreau last October. The agreement was short-lived, said Rendón, and the opposition terminated it a few days after it was signed. Rendón said it was unclear why Goudreau continued his own operation.

Goudreau did not respond to requests for comment, but in an interview with Factores de Poder, a YouTube channel, said: “I’m just a guy trying to help a group of people. I have been a freedom fighter all my life. “

After leaving the military, Goudreau founded Silvercorp, which, according to his website, planned the international security of President Trump and the Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Goudreau’s Instagram account is full of pictures of him fit and ready for battle: shirtless and armed, shirtless and on a treadmill, on a helicopter, in private planes and in Mexican ruins.

“We are not retired military personnel,” he said. “We are a risk mitigation in active service.”

Mr. Goudreau’s interest in Venezuela began in 2019 while he was working on security at a concert on the Venezuelan-Colombian border in support of Mr. Guaidó. Soon, Mr. Goudreau began working with Cliver Alcalá, a former Venezuelan general who had publicly turned against Mr. Maduro, to form a small group of military defectors based in camps in Colombia, according to another military trainer who was the.

At one point, the group included around 150 men and women, said Alemán. But they had very few resources.

Ephraim Mattos, a former Navy Seal who runs a non-profit business that employs former Venezuelan police and military, said he visited the camp for about 10 days in the fall of 2019, believing that he was providing a medical training for Venezuelan refugee soldiers. He was surprised to hear the fighters say that “there is a specific plan to eliminate Maduro,” coordinated by Mr. Goudreau, he said.

The group believed the US government was supporting the operation, said Mattos. But right away, the details didn’t add up for him. He looked at Mr. Goudreau’s Instagram account and thought, “This guy is not the real deal, this is not an American government, something sanctioned by the United States. “

“I was very suspicious that it would be supported by the United States government,” he said. “The men I was with didn’t have enough food.”

But the group was convinced, so Mr. Mattos gave them tourniquets and bandages and left, he said. By the time the fighters prepared to launch their attack, the situation had further deteriorated.

There were also significant signs that the group had been infiltrated by Mr. Maduro’s allies, said Rocío San Miguel, director of Citizen Control, which tracks the Venezuelan armed forces.

However, the group continued, joined by Mr. Denman and Airan Berry, the two Green Berets recruited by Mr. Goudreau who have since been captured.

Contacted this week by phone, Denman’s mother Linda Kay Denman said she had no idea what her son had done and thought he was going to an underwater welding school.

“At this point, I have no information about why or even what happened,” she said. “I’m numb. “

Venezuelan authorities said on Sunday that they had captured a first boat, followed by a second. Alemán said he understood the attack looked like a suicide mission, but urged people to understand the level of despair shared by many Venezuelans.

He said he often visits training camps and sometimes talks to Mr. Goudreau about his reason for working with the group.

“It hurt her,” he said, “to see how much the Venezuelans were suffering.”

The reports were provided by Lara Jakes and Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt in Washington, and Sheyla Urdaneta in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The research was carried out by Susan C. Beachy in New York.

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