Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro revealed that a pair of U.S. nationals were among those captured in a failed paramilitary operation to topple the government.
In a televised address Monday evening, Maduro presented the passports of Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, who were arrested by Venezuelan security forces earlier that day. The Venezuelan leader also showed what appeared to be a U.S. Army identification card belonging to Denman.
The two individuals were captured by Venezuelan security forces earlier on Monday while attempting to make an amphibious landing on the peninsula of Chuao in Aragua state.
Six other heavily armed men were also brought into Venezuelan custody, including a former National Guard captain and the son of an ex-defense minister. Captain Antonio Jose Sequea, one of the leaders of the operation, has been previously identified as a deserter who participated in last year’s failed April 30 putsch.
Josnars Adolfo Baduel is the son of former Defense Minister Raul Baduel, who was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on corruption charges in 2009 and has been later accused of conspiring to oust the government. The other men have also been identified as Venezuelan nationals.
Speaking to the Washington Post, former U.S. special forces veteran Jordan Goudreau identified Denman and Berry as fellow ex-green berets employed by his private security firm, Silvercorp. He added that the men were “advisors” in a contingent of sixty combatants attempting to land on Venezuelan beaches.
On Sunday, Goudreau claimed responsibility for another attempted incursion, which was neutralized by the Venezuelan armed forces of the coast of La Guaira State, just north of Caracas.
According to Venezuelan authorities, eight members of the paramilitary group were killed and two arrested in the early morning confrontation, an account which Goudreau corroborated. Defense Minister Padrino Lopez announced that the defensive operations were ongoing and that military exercises would begin straight away. Thirteen arrests have been made so far in relation to both day’s events.
Goudreau confirmed that both Sunday and Monday’s actions are part of “Operation Gedeon,” whose objective is to “capture” high-ranking Caracas officials and “liberate” the Venezuelan people. The Iraq and Afghanistan veteran was profiled by the Associated Press over the weekend for his role in training a contingent of 300 Venezuelan deserters in Colombia as part of a coup plot led by former Venezuelan Major General Cliver Alcala. According to AP, both the Colombian government and the Venezuelan opposition were aware of the plans.
For his part, self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido had initially dismissed “Operation Gedeon” as a “false flag” perpetrated by the Maduro government on Sunday. On Monday evening, however, Guaido’s office issued a statement demanding respect for the “human rights” of those arrested in the botched paramilitary incursion.
“Our young people need not suffer the risks and consequences of confronting a bloody dictatorship,” the document read.
Guaido also issued a separate statement denying any “relation with or responsibility for the actions of the firm Silvercorp or its representatives.”
Goudreau and Alcala have publicly attested to Guaido’s involvement in the coup attempt and claimed that a contract had been signed with Silvercorp. The former green beret showed an alleged copy of the contract in an interview with hard-right Miami-based Venezuelan journalist Patricia Poleo on Sunday evening.
The agreement would see Silvercorp provide a host of “services,” including “strategic planning,” “equipment procuring” and “project execution advisement,” for a U.S. $213 million fee. Unconfirmed videos were released on social media showing a purported conference call featuring Guaido, senior advisor Sergio Vergara, and Goudreau, before signing the alleged contract.
For its part, U.S. government has denied any connection to the operation.
“I just got information… It has nothing to do with our government,” President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday morning.
Maduro has pointed the finger at Washington and Bogota, claiming that the DEA was involved in the operation.
In March, the U.S. Justice Department indicted Maduro and other top offiicials on “narco-terrorism” charges and announced a $15 million reward for his capture.
Since 2017, the Trump administration has imposed round after round of crippling economic sanctions aimed at ousting Maduro, who won reelection in 2018. In January 2019, the U.S. and its allies recognized opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president.”
Lucas Koerner reporting from Santiago de Chile and Ricardo Vaz from Mérida. With additional reporting by Paul Dobson from Mérida.