Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said that two Americans were among 13 people arrested for allegedly launching an attempted coup to overthrow his regime.
Maduro said in a state TV appearance that the American men were “professional mercenaries” and members of President Donald Trump’s security team. “They were playing Rambo. They were playing hero,” Maduro said.
Trump denied any US involvement on Tuesday, telling reporters “it has nothing to do with our government.”
A former Green Beret named Jordan Goudreau, who runs a security company based in Florida, has claimed responsibility for the plot. He told the AP that two men he fought with in Iraq and Afghanistan were involved in the operation. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
The website for Goudreau’s company, Silvercorp USA, claims to be operating in more than 50 countries and “advises corporations and governments worldwide,” but provides no detail of his work. A promotional video on its homepage shows Goudreau running with weapons, then shirtless at the gym, shirtless running up the stairs of an ancient ruin, shirtless on the beach.
Goudreau dubbed the plot “Operation Gideon” in a video posted online Sunday, in which he announced “a daring amphibious raid” was being launched on the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
Goudreau also said revolutionary “units” had been “activated” across the country. There has been no independent confirmation of a widespread uprising, but the Venezuelan government announced Sunday that it had intercepted a speedboat attempting to make landfall near Caracas.
The following day, eight more arrests were made, including the Americans identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry. Goudreau told the Washington Post that the operation included two special forces veterans.
Goudreau’s long-shot plan to oust Maduro began when he worked security for a concert organized by British billionaire Richard Branson in support of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the AP reported in an investigation into the plot. Goudreau had a connection to Keith Schiller, Trump’s longtime bodyguard, and Goudreau reportedly accompanied Schiller to a meeting with Guaidó’s representatives in Miami last May.
Schiller cut off all contact with Goudreau after the meeting, the AP reported, but this did not slow Goudreau’s quest to aid the Venezuelan opposition. He met with Venezuelan dissidents in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, ultimately partnering with former Venezuelan Major General Cliver Alcalá. Alcalá had a spotty track record — he’d been sanctioned by the US in 2011 for selling missiles to Colombian rebels in exchange for cocaine — but he said he was already gathering deserters from the Venezuelan military in camps just across the border in Colombia. Goudreau reportedly proposed that Silvercorp USA train the insurgents and promised he could win the backing of high-ranking US officials.
Goudreau claims to have eventually won support from Guaidó himself, providing a contract to a Venezuelan journalist for $213 million that he claims Guaidó signed. The contract does not specify that it was for a military operation, however. Guaidó’s office denied signing a contract or speaking with Goudreau, but Goudreau claimed to Bloomberg the money had been transferred to the US to pay him but the transfer was never completed.
The wheels started coming off even before the insurgency began. Alcalá reportedly openly touted the coup plot in Bogotá, courting support from Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate and claiming Goudreau was a former CIA agent. This prompted Colombian authorities to check with the CIA, who said Goudreau was never an agent. The AP reported that it found no evidence that US officials lent support to the project, though the Trump administration was aware it was underway.
The Colombian government warned Alcalá to stop talking about the coup plot, the AP reported, and then it arrested one of Alcalá’s men attempting to smuggle $150,000 worth of military equipment into Venezuela. Then US officials came directly after Alcalá himself, indicting him alongside President Maduro in March in a scheme to allegedly traffic 250 metric tons of cocaine annually into the US. Alcalá is now in US custody, and the AP published its in-depth look at this seemingly doomed plot on Friday.
But Goudeau’s team apparently pressed on anyway. When the AP asked why his team risked the Sunday raid on a heavily armed port city, he reportedly said he was following the example of Alexander the Great and striking “deep into the heart of the enemy.” He told the AP he last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were still offshore after the first boat landed on Sunday, running low on fuel and heading to the island of Aruba to try to refuel. The Venezuelan government did not make public details of how the men were captured.
Hernan Alemán, an opposition lawmaker now living outside the country, told the Washington Post he had been working with Alcalá since last year, and vowed to keep trying to overthrow the regime despite this botched coup attempt.
“It may take five, even 10 failed attempts, but we will get rid of this government,” he said.