Maduro brandished a pair of blue American passports, reading the names and dates of birth on them in a national program broadcast on national television. He showed images of the fishing boats on which the alleged attackers were mounted and equipment such as walkie-talkies and night vision goggles collected during what Maduro called a couple of “intense” days. He blamed the attacks on the Trump administration and neighboring Colombia, both of which denied involvement.
“The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid,” said Maduro, congratulating members of a fishing village for trapping a group in the net of “professional American mercenaries”.
Before dawn Sunday, officials said the first attack had started on a beach near the port city of La Guaira, Venezuela, when security forces made the first two arrests and killed eight other people trying to land by speedboat.
The two American citizens arrested on Monday were identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former soldiers of the US Special Forces.
Former Florida-based green beret Jordan Goudreau said earlier Monday that he was working with the two on a mission to arrest Maduro and “liberate” Venezuela. Goudreau claimed responsibility for the operation.
The two men served in Iraq and Afghanistan with him in the US military, said Goudreau, adding that they were part of this alleged mission in Venezuela called “Operation Gideon”. The goal was to capture Maduro.
Venezuela is experiencing a political and economic crisis which is worsening under the Maduro regime. Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care have pushed nearly 5 million people to migrate. But Maduro still controls all the levers of power despite a campaign waged by the United States to drive him out. He recently accused Maduro of a drug dealer and offered a $ 15 million reward for his arrest.
Venezuela and the United States severed diplomatic ties last year amid mounting tensions, so there is no US embassy in Caracas. US State Department officials did not respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press on Monday.
“I have tried to involve everyone I know at all levels,” said Goudreau of the attempt to help his fellow detainees. “No one answers my calls. It’s a nightmare. “
Kay Denman, the mother of one of the Americans, said that the last time she heard from her son was a few weeks ago when he texted him from an undisclosed location asking how she was facing the coronavirus pandemic. She said she had never heard of her son talking about Venezuela and learned of his possible capture there only after his friends called when they saw the news on social media.
“The first time I heard Jordan Goudreau’s name was today,” she said when contacted at her home in Austin, Texas.
Goudreau said he had signed a contract with US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, which Guaidó denied. The Leader of the Opposition said he had nothing to do with the Sunday raid.
Goudreau says Guaidó never respected the contract, but the former Green Beret continued his operation with an underfunded operation with only 60 fighters, including the two American veterans.
He said he had last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were adrift in a boat “hugging” the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat after a first confrontation with the Venezuelan navy on Sunday morning, he said.
“They were running dangerously low on fuel,” said Goudreau. “If they had fallen on dry land, they would have gone to a safe house.”
Goudreau said the two men were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to extract them.
Venezuelan state television has shown images on state television of several unidentified men handcuffed and lying on a street. A video clip showed authorities handling a shirtless man handcuffed.
He was identified as a captain of the National Guard Antonio Sequea, who participated in a barracks revolt against Maduro a year ago. Goudreau said that Sequea was a commander working with him the past few days on the ground in Venezuela.
Maduro’s ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that in total, they had arrested 114 people suspected of having participated in the attempted attack and that they were looking for 92 others.
Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star veteran in the United States, claims to have helped organize the deadly sea raid from Colombia. Goudreau said the operation had received no help from Guaidó or the US or Colombian governments.
Opposition politicians and US officials have issued statements suggesting that Maduro’s allies had fabricated the assault to draw attention to the country’s problems.
Goudreau said by telephone earlier Monday that 52 other fighters had infiltrated Venezuelan territory and were at the first stage of a mission to recruit members of the security forces to join their cause.
A PA investigation released Friday found that Goudreau had worked with a retired Venezuelan army general – who is now facing US drug charges – to train dozens of Venezuelan security force deserters in secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross-border raid that would end with the arrest of Maduro.