The first week of May saw another attempted coup d’état in Venezuela.
A paramilitary operation, organised by US special forces veteran Jordan Goudreau and retired Venezuelan Major-General Cliver Alcala, aimed to seize control of several strategic points and detain President Maduro. A group of 60 men, including two US mercenaries, left Colombia by boat, but were quickly neutralised on Venezuelan soil.
The operation sparked a wave of accusations and counter-accusations regarding who was involved and who had knowledge of the foiled plot, as well as the nature of the connection between Goudreau and Alcala.
The US government has openly and repeatedly announced its intention to overthrow the Venezuelan government, even by using military intervention. The attacks against the Venezuelan people, particularly in the economic sphere, have become more and more brutal over time, but how involved was the Trump administration in Operation Gideon?
This article discusses what we know about the operation, separating conclusive information from speculation. It is essential to understand the enemy and their actions so as to prepare for and confront future attacks.
The limited tactical capacity of the paramilitary raid suggests that US agencies were likely not directly involved.
However, the US remains responsible for the context in which the action took place, and was most likely aware of the plan. In contrast, the involvement of the Guaido-led opposition is far more evident.
Regarding (direct) US participation
To examine the US government’s degree of participation, one has to begin by looking at the details of the operation.
Many analysts have made comparisons with the Bay of Pigs invasion (Cuba) in 1961. In that operation, which was directly organised by US agencies, the US Air Force bombed Cuba before 1500 men landed. Operation Gideon involved about 60 people, with few weapons and boats without much gasoline.
President Trump told the media that he "knew nothing" about this "bad operation” and that if the US had participated in it, the result would have been a real "invasion." Likewise, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said more or less the same, emphasising (or confessing) that the US government was not "directly" involved, as well as saying that had it been, the results would have been different.
Imperialist arrogance aside, the truth is that the operation's scarce material and human resources do not seem to indicate the substantial presence of any US agency. It is not very difficult to assume that, faced with an operation with very little chance of success, the State Department and CIA chose not to risk resources and credibility.
For example, last month Trump ordered the massive mobilisation of naval assets to the Caribbean as part of a so-called "anti-drug operation" aimed at pressuring Venezuela, which is considered the largest military deployment in the region since the 1989 US invasion of Panama. It is not likely that, with these ships and men so close, the US would attempt a coup with so little chance of success as Operation Gideon.
But the first part of Trump and Pompeo's statements, alleging ignorance, is far less credible. A Wall Street Journal report has revealed that the CIA was aware of the plans, as Alcala shared them openly. Moreover, if the Venezuelan government was aware of the operation, it is not unreasonable to assume that US agencies were also.
Goudreau's alleged ties to Trump are also extremely circumstantial. The former green beret once worked security for a political rally held by the US president and was approached by the Venezuelan opposition through Trump's former bodyguard, Keith Schiller. But that doesn't prove any link to the White House. Similarly, the accusation that Luke Denman and Airan Berry, the two American mercenaries captured in the operation, were "members of Trump's security team," was never proved.
Conclusive and circumstantial evidence
Despite (probably) not having participated directly in the failed operation, the US remains responsible for the context which allow initiatives like this. Putting a price on the head of Maduro and other leaders, based on fabricated accusations of "narco-terrorism," is an incentive for paramilitary adventures, for example.
Constant attacks, allied to bellicose media propaganda, also allowed the opposition to engage in far more violent actions than would be permitted elsewhere. It is imperialist gall to believe that the "legitimacy" of the Venezuelan government is decided in Washington, which opens the door to a previously almost unknown self-proclaimed president, attempts coups, or seeks to achieve long-awaited "regime change" by resorting to mercenaries.
Unlike Trump or Pompeo, Guaido's denials of involvement in Operation Gideon are very implausible. On social media and in front of mainstream media’s sycophantic microphones, Guaido tried to jump from one incoherent position to another until he finally decided to throw the blame downstream and claim that he had no relation to the operation or Jordan Goudreau. Supposedly, it was his advisers JJ Rendon and Sergio Vergara who moved the plans forward against his orders, as Guaido was concerned about the "legality" of such an operation.
Unfortunately for the opposition leader, the facts play against him.
Firstly, Rendon and Vegara report directly to him of course. Secondly, Rendon admitted to being appointed precisely to explore regime change projects. Thirdly, Guaido's signature appears in a contract between the opposition and [US mercenary outfit] Silvercorp, and no one has bee in n charged with the felony of forging the signature of a "president." Finally, a video leaked by Goudreau shows a video conference with Guaido and Vergara just before the contract was signed, and the images have not been reported as a montage.
Paradoxically, it could be Guaido's "government" that ends up being overthrown by Operation Gideon. His leadership was anything but consensual before this foiled incursion, after several failed attempts to seize power by force. With parliamentary elections on the horizon, reports have surfaced of opposition figures trying to convince Washington to replace Guaido.
Denunciations and goodwill gestures
So far, the response to the coup attempts in Venezuela, both in terms of intelligence and defence, has been commendable . But when it comes to foreign policy, the strategy has been more questionable. To confront permanent imperialist attacks, which employ sanctions as their main weapon, the Bolivarian government has largely limited itself to rhetorical denunciations.
While important, particularly in coordination with solidarity movements, denunciations are, on their own, of limited effectiveness. These denouncements mainly appeal to an "international law" which in practice does not, nor has ever, existed. Since the United Nations was born after World War II, all crimes at the international level committed by powerful actors have gone unpunished.
In other words, "justice" only works if there are mechanisms to implement it. The US is not going to change course because its leaders realise that their actions are wrong –that would require "consciousness." Nor will it do so due to the action of some supranational mechanism, as that mechanism does not exist. Therefore, the registering of "complaints" in the International Criminal Court (ICC) is another questionable exercise, as the US does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court.
Throughout its history, the ICC's purpose has been to judge enemies of the West once they are defeated. A body that exists to judge African "dictators" in order to contribute to the farce that the global North promotes human rights is useless, at best, and dangerous at worst.
In the Venezuelan case, the ICC has received absurd allegations lodged by opposition agents of "crimes against humanity" against Maduro. If at any time the court decides to move forward with such a politicised trial, it will be much more difficult to dispute its (non-existent) legitimacy.
The other component of Venezuelan foreign policy in recent times has been to offer concessions as gestures of goodwill. This, to a great extent, is a projection of domestic policy on the international scene. The (doubtful) premise is that goodwill gestures will be reciprocated, but reality shows that the aggression has only escalated. The two arrested [US] soldiers will be a new test for the Venezuelan strategy.
In conclusion, Operation Gideon was a defeat for the Venezuelan opposition on several levels. For its part, the US continues to beat the drums of war.
While the facts do not suggest that the Trump administration was closely involved, the context of relentless open attacks promotes similar adventures. Additionally, with presidential elections on the horizon and the important state of Florida up for grabs, Venezuela will not pass from the White House’s agenda.
"To imperialism not an ounce," Che Guevara once said. Denunciations and goodwill gestures will not be enough to defeat imperialism. It is a system, the "highest stage" of capitalism, which does not depend on the will of the leaders of turn, nor does it submit itself to "international law.” With natural resources at stake and Chavez's socialist project considered an unforgivable offense, the attacks will not cease.
In that sense, Venezuela needs to think about, and debate, a strategy which offers the best conditions for resistance. The response to concessions offered to foreign capital was new sanctions and to denouncements and goodwill gestures, new attacks. The pardons granted to the opposition were met with new coup attempts. It is the deepening of socialism and the strengthening of popular organisation that will allow the project to survive and the people to defend it.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.