Despite being aware of Venezuelan opposition-sponsored plan to stage an invasion and remove the government of Nicolas Maduro, the Trump administration and its agencies failed to take any action to stop it or warn Caracas about the threat.
The over 6,000-word report by VICE journalist Ben Makuch largely retells the May 2020 story of the 60-strong expedition by deserting Venezuelan soldiers and two US mercenaries that was quickly neutralized by state security forces. Makuch’s narrative paints a picture of a poorly organized and funded operation that failed as a result of the incompetence and lack of foresight by its mastermind, former US Special Ops. soldier and Green Beret Jordan Goudreau.
However, the VICE investigation revealed new details from figures allegedly involved in the planning and execution of the doomed invasion.
The involvement of US authorities has long been suspected, with Goudreau, head of the security contractor Silvercorp, having previously claimed that he had support from the White House and held meetings with officials at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC and the Trump Doral resort in Florida.
“[I]n the winter of 2020, according to two sources aware of the background machinations surrounding Operation Gideon, a representative of the CIA approached Goudreau somewhere on an undisclosed Carribean island [...] as he was putting together the doomed plot. They brought a clear message: end Operation Gideon; if it is launched, the U.S. government will offer zero support,” wrote Makuch.
Despite being in contact with Goudreau and being opposed to the coup scheme, the US failed to warn Caracas about the plot as it likewise failed to do in 2002 ahead of the coup against the late Hugo Chávez. President Trump and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied any White House knowledge or responsibility after the operation’s failure.
The Venezuelan government broke off diplomatic relations with the US in early 2019 after the US recognized Juan Guaidó as president as part of a broader effort to oust the Maduro administration. Despite the lack of warning, Caracas authorities were well aware of the Goudreau plot, having infiltrated the group and denouncing the plot as early as March 2020, two months before the invasion was attempted.
Venezuelan intelligence subsequently found that hardline opposition politician Hernán Alemán, who had boasted about his involvement with Operation Gideon, had also talked about his contacts with the CIA concerning the plot.
Despite mounting evidence of the participation of high-profile opposition figures in the coup plot, opposition leader Juan Guaidó has repeatedly tried to wash his hands of any responsibility in the affair, telling VICE that the entire plot was “financed and promoted” by Maduro.
However, a contract signed between Guaidó and Goudreau suggests that the opposition leader and his associate Juan José (“JJ”) Rendon were well aware of Goudreau’s intentions to see the mission through. A copy of the contract that was initially leaked included a provision that Guaidó could “maintain deniability and be absolved of all knowledge and fault” should the effort fail. Subsequent leaks of the contract omitted that clause. That contract is the basis of Goudreau’s US $ 1.4 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against JJ Rendón. The right-wing strategist admitted to VICE that he met with and entered into an agreement with Goudreau.
Rendón, who has collaborated with numerous right-wing regimes in the region, claimed that the opposition's dealings with Goudreau were cut after he failed to deliver on promises of financing and personnel. Rendón resigned from his position as Guaidó advisor shortly after the failed coup plot.
The two US citizens who took part in the plot, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, were handed 20-year prison sentences in August, 2020 and remain in Venezuela. A man with the alias “Roberto,” who allegedly was a Gideon member and escaped arrest, told VICE that the pair were conscious of the plot and corroborated Denman and Barry’s claim that their role was to train the Venezuelan soldiers who had deserted in the takeover of buildings, streets and airports in order to receive foreign aircraft.
Former New Mexico Governor and UN Ambassador Bill Richardson, who is working to secure the release of the two former US soldiers, told VICE he too suspects that the US government was involved despite denials.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.