No, there was no invasion in Venezuela, but the tension in the region is escalating
Venezuelan authorities reported a coup attempt involving three former U.S. military personnel. What happened?
May 3 was an intense day in Venezuela, directly involving few people, but during which high-caliber claims were made. While the most recent events are full of statements that are out of context and out of proportion, there are more elements in international relations that increase tension and make the overall picture more complex.
According to Nestor Reverol, Venezuela's Minister of the Interior, a group of ten armed men tried to enter the country from Colombia in two speedboats. In the confrontation eight of them died and two were captured. As of May 5, Venezuelan authorities claim there were not ten, but thirteen.
Among these, two would be the Americans Airan Berry and Luke Denman, whose passports and driver's licenses President Nicolas Maduro displayed in a television broadcast, while describing them as members of President Donald Trump's personal security.
On May 3, a video appeared on social networks in which Javier Nieto Quintero (a Venezuelan military man declared in opposition to Maduro) and Jordan Goudreau (American, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) assumed responsibility for the operation, which they called Operation Gedeón, and announced that some sixty men were entering the country from three sides with the aim of carrying out a military operation to end Maduro's regime.
Cap. (GN) Javier Nieto Quintero informa sobre la OPERACIÓN GEDEON. pic.twitter.com/DvuzbxAQk8
— CARIVE (@Carive15) May 3, 2020
This coincides with the publication of an Associated Press investigation in which they give a long account of both Goudreau's profile and the size and - null - potential of his plan.
Goudreau, with his experience as a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, having served as a medic for the U.S. Special Forces and having received three Bronze Stars for his acts of bravery in the wars he fought, in 2018 founded Silvercorp, a Florida-based company dedicated to advising on irregular problems, such as negotiations in kidnapping cases. The other two Americans involved in the failed operation, Airan Berry and Luke Denman, were employees of Goudreau.
The Associated Press investigation describes how Goudreau became involved with Cliver Alcalá, a retired major Venezuelan general who had openly supported Juan Guaidó since 2019. Through Alcalá, Goudreau met Nieto Quintero and began planning the May 3 maneuver.
In March of this year, Alcalá turned himself in to U.S. authorities, who were looking for him on drug trafficking charges and had offered a $10 million reward for his capture.
In spite of this, Goudreau's plans continued. In three camps in Colombia he tried to train about 300 men, using broomsticks instead of firearms and poorly fed. He estimated that he needed $1.5 million to finance the entire operation - including weapons, clothing, bribes, travel and other contingencies. But the funding did not come and the number of poorly dressed and poorly fed men dwindled, as did their likelihood of having any impact.
The various sources consulted by the Associated Press agreed in describing Goudreau as out of his mind and seeing his plan as foolish, including sectors aligned with Juan Guaidó that chose to distance themselves from Goudreau.
"There was no chance they would succeed without direct U.S. military intervention," former Navy SEAL Ephraim Mattos told the Associated Press. Mattos spent two weeks last September training Goudreau's men in basic tactical medicine. However, AP could find no indication that Goudreau had sought U.S. military support or that the Trump administration had authorized a covert operation against Maduro, which should be reported to Congress.
And despite the announcement made by Goudreau and Nieto Quintero that they had men entering the country from different corners to initiate military activities, there are no recorded confrontations in Caracas or in any other area of the country at the moment.
Everything seems to indicate that Goudreau's plan grew on paper without being able to grow in reality and that it has rather served for the government of Nicolás Maduro to exalt its own image and to find an easily identifiable enemy to divert attention from the difficulties afflicting the country.
Although the announcements made by the Venezuelan government are out of proportion and have false elements (such as saying that the Americans involved in the operation were members of the DEA), there are elements in the context of the relations between Venezuela and the United States that contribute to increasing the tension. The response of the Colombian Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, did not help to dampen it either.
The first of those elements is the fact that Venezuela's incumbent president, Nicolas Maduro, is being sought by U.S. justice on charges of narco-terrorism, corruption and drug trafficking and $15 million is being offered in reward for his capture.
The second is that a few days after filing charges against Maduro, President Trump announced, during one of his press conferences on the coronavirus, that he would be making a counter-narcotics military deployment focused on Central America and the Caribbean, with a particular focus on Venezuela. This resulted in a naval deployment near the Venezuelan coast.
In the midst of a pandemic, this deployment seems to make little sense, but a month ago the primary was still in play, and this move would clearly aim to gain the favor of nationalized Venezuelans and Cubans who might vote in November's elections.
Finally, there is the interview given by Mauricio Claver Carone, the Director of the National Security Council Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, to EVTV Miami in which he expressed himself in terms of a frank warning, advising Maduro and his immediate circle to act wisely and take advantage of the opportunities they had for a peaceful exit from power. "Common sense dictates," Claver said in the interview, "that no one who has confronted American justice has ever gotten away with it."
Meanwhile, when the news of the small and failed military operation carried out with Goudreau came out, the Colombian Foreign Ministry stated the following:
"This is an unfounded accusation, which attempts to engage the Colombian Government in a speculative plot. We call on the international community to reject this type of accusation and to be aware of the repeated attempts by the dictator Maduro to engage us in false versions of alleged acts of force".
With these words it closes, without having explicitly rejected any attempt of military intervention against Maduro. It cannot be inferred from this that the Colombian government is seeking military intervention. But it is an indelicacy, to put it mildly, that contributes to the further increase of steam.