Two Americans have been arrested and eight armed men were killed as a result of a failed coup attempt, Venezuelan authorities claimed Tuesday.
And, indeed, something happened. What, exactly, remains unclear. But a Canadian-born ex-Green Beret claimed credit for plotting an invasion of the country in a video posted to Twitter Sunday. And all of this came days after the Associated Press published a lengthy report on the “failed attempt to oust Venezeula’s Maduro.”
Here’s what we know:
The plan was insane.
Assemble a few dozen Venezuelan former soldiers, storm the country’s capital, arrest senior government officials, win hearts and minds, install opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Boom: Coup done.
At least, that was former Green Beret and current private security contractor Jordan Goudreau’s plan, according to the AP. The outlet pieced together the details of the attempted invasion before it happened — even quoting an intelligence official in Nicolás Maduro’s government who said the plot had been so extensively infiltrated by government sources that “some of their meetings we had to pay for.”
Key to the plan was a coterie of Venezuelan military deserters and a well-known former military officer living in Colombia. But infighting and poor planning doomed the effort essentially from the start, the AP reported.
“You’re not going to take out Maduro with 300 hungry, untrained men,” a former Navy SEAL who trained some of the operatives in Colombia told the AP.
Ultimately, eight would-be “invaders” were killed Sunday, the Venezuelan government says, and two American employees of Goudreau’s firm Silvercorp USA were arrested alongside several others a day later. Maduro waved their American passports around in a televised address soon after.
Participants tweeted at President Trump in the middle of everything.
Even after the AP published its detailed, comprehensive view of the would-be coup attempt Friday, its participants went ahead with the effort anyway.
In fact, they tweeted about it: “Strikeforce incursion into Venezuela. 60 Venezuelan, 2 American ex Green Beret @realDonaldTrump” @SilvercorpUsa tweeted Sunday. The post has since been deleted.
In fact, the operation was strikingly public. In a video statement published Sunday by the news outlet Factores de Poder, Goudreau stood next to a man who identified himself as Javier Nieto Quintero.
Hablan los que saben. pic.twitter.com/hR7N2yKi1J
— Factores de Poder (@FactoresdePoder) May 3, 2020
“At 1700 hours, a daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas,” Goudreau says in the video. “Our men are continuing to fight right now. Our units have been activated in the south, east and west of Venezuela.”
The plot’s mastermind, an ex-Green Beret, has a strange history of private security gigs, including at Trump rallies.
Goudreau’s firm, SilverCorp USA, got its start in 2018 with a scheme to embed counter-terrorism agents posing as teachers in schools, the AP reported. SilverCorp’s Instagram page features video clips of school shootings, but it’s not clear if the firm ever actually installed any secret operators in classrooms. A couple years earlier, the AP reported, Goudreau was a private security contractor in Puerto Rico.
SilverCorp also claims to have provided security at at least one Trump rally, though it’s not clear that’s actually the case — a video on the firm’s website shows Goudreau and others clad in suits and earpieces during Trump’s speech at the Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte in 2018.
Still, the regime change attempt was new terrain.
“As supportive as you want to be as a friend, his head wasn’t in the world of reality,” a former business partner of Goudreau’s told the AP. “Nothing he said lined up.”
Goudreau did apparently have at least one legitimate contact in Trump world related to his security work: Keith Schiller, the President’s longtime body guard and a one-time White House aide to Trump. Last year Goudreau met Lester Toledo, an associate of Guaidó, through Schiller, the AP reported.
The Trump administration and Guaidó have denied involvement with the plot, though the Maduro regime has accused both of involvement in the coup attempt. And though Schiller ultimately “cut off all contact” with Goudreau, according to the AP, this connection brings us to our next point.
There was, allegedly, some drug trafficking involved.
It’s difficult to carry out a coup when your primary point of contact on the ground has been arrested on drug trafficking charges.
And yet that’s just what happened to Goudreau’s point man. Toledo, who Goudreau met through Schiller, introduced the former Green Beret to the former Venezuelan military officer Cliver Alcalá. Alcalá claimed to have a network of combatants ready to take on the Venezuelan military.
But Alcalá, who was living in Colombia until recently, was charged in late March alongside President Maduro for allegedly engaging in narcoterrorism. In 2011, the AP noted, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly supplying surface-to-air missiles to Colombia’s FARC rebels in exchange for cocaine. He’s currently in custody in New York, after surrendering to DEA agents in Colombia soon after the charges were announced.
At one point, the former Venezuelan officer asked Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate to support the coup attempt, the AP reported, in the process falsely claiming to be working with a former CIA agent. Upon learning that Goudreau wasn’t actually a former agent, “Alcalá was then told by his hosts to stop talking about an invasion or face expulsion,” one unnamed former Colombian official told the AP.
Guaidó and Colombian officials knew about the plot; Trump says he didn’t.
U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed total ignorance of Godreau’s doings. “We just heard about it,” he said, when asked about the news. “It has nothing to do with our government.”
The Colombian National Intelligence Directorate did know, per the AP’s reporting, but declined to get involved.
So, reportedly, did the man who stood to benefit most from the overthrow of the current regime: Juan Guaidó.
Goudreau reportedly had a connection to Guaidó through Toledo. But three unnamed people close to the opposition leader told the AP that Guaidó’s envoys cut ties with Goudreau after determining that the coup attempt would end in failure.
Factores De Poder obtained a contract allegedly signed by Guaidó that covered the operation — for a bonkers $212.9 million sum. But Goudreau also complained to the outlet that Guaidó hadn’t paid him anything, even a promised $1.5 million retainer, the website Bellingcat noted.
After the plot failed spectacularly, Guaidó himself accused the Maduro government of a “massacre,” the Washington Post reported.
“They knew about this and were waiting to massacre them,” Guaidó said during a remote session of the Venezuelan national assembly. “Nicolás Maduro, you are responsible. The regime knew about that operation, you infiltrated it and waited to massacre them.”