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WTF – The keystone coup

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot or WTF is our new weekly column diving into the semi weird and confusing terrain of life as we know it currently. Is it news? We aren’t entirely sure, but we know it’s all important. Once a week our very own Thomas McKenzie will dive into a new and semi-ridiculous topic. Have an idea you would like explored? Please send him an email and maybe he will pick up your weird pitch.

Lost among the noise of 2020’s global pandemic is the epic tale of what’s being called the “Keystone Cops Bay of Pigs”, a failed coup against a Venezuelan president. Here’s the short version.

It began back in September, when a group of former Venezuelan troops fled to the bordering country of Colombia to begin training for a special mission — to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro with, they were told, U.S. government assistance.

The two-prong attack, scheduled for November, required roughly 300 men; self-declared Venezuelan “freedom fighters” who would take to the sea in two boats, sailing from Colombia to Venezuela to storm the capital of Caracas and capture Maduro.

One team would take Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second-largest city and its most critical seaport. The second team would move on to the capital city of Caracas. There, they would launch an air assault on President Maduro’s mansion using U.S. helicopters flown by American pilots wearing Venezuelan military uniforms. Once inside, the former soldiers, armed with U.S. -provided equipment, would capture Maduro and hold him until the first team arrived.

The hope was that many of Maduro’s forces would join the rebellion and give up without a fight. With Maracaibo and the base of Venezuelan power secured, the helicopters would transport Maduro back to the U.S., where he’s wanted on drug trafficking charges.

Meanwhile, Juan Guaidó, the U.S. -backed opposition leader who’d launched a global movement several months earlier to become the country’s new president, would assume power.

That was the plan, anyway.

One person noticeably not in a boat heading to the Venezuelan coast Sunday, May 3, 2020, was U.S. Army veteran Jordan Goudreau; a Bronze Star recipient and founder of Silvercorp USA, a Florida-based private security firm. Goudreau was in another location recording a video, announcing to the world that the operation was underway.

“A daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas,” Goudreau said in the video, standing beside a former Venezuelan army captain. “Our units have been activated in the south, west, and east of Venezuela.” By the time the video was posted Sunday, eight of their operatives had been killed, and 13 were taken into Venezuelan custody — including two American ex-Green Berets.

According to the New York Times, Goudreau said his men vomited the entire way and nearly ran out of petrol as their boats hugged the Caribbean coast off Venezuela. One boat got into a 45-minute firefight with Venezuelan military helicopters, snipers, and even angry fishermen. It ended up dropping off members in different areas along the coast, where Venezuelan authorities eventually arrested them.

President Maduro claimed to know everything about the operation. “We knew what they talked about, what they ate and drank, and who financed them,” he said on Venezuelan TV, ridiculing members of the invasion force for “playing Rambo” as he held up IDs the two Americans had apparently been carrying on their person when they were captured, which included a passport and an expired Pentagon badge.

If Maduro hadn’t been alerted to the attack by Goudreau’s video (and now-deleted tweets) announcing the raid to the world, he certainly would have been made aware of the plot by Venezuelan intelligence who’d infiltrated the group. But having the Associated Press get wind of the plot and publish a detailed account of Goudreau’s plans three days before the attack was just icing on the cake. “The plan was simple, but perilous. Some 300 heavily armed volunteers would sneak into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America,” wrote AP reporter Joshua Goodman in his news dispatch on May 1.

Jordan Goudreau was a 43-year-old Canadian-born gung-ho former U.S. Special Forces Green Beret who first served in the Canadian military in the 1990s before serving as a medical sergeant in the U.S. military from 2001 to 2016. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and received three Bronze Stars for valor. He decided to retire after a parachuting accident ended in a concussion and back injuries.

As the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida made headlines, Goudreau saw an opportunity. He created his company, Silvercorp USA, to fill what he felt was a key niche in the security market. His business plan consisted of embedding ex-special forces operatives in schools to pose as teachers, and charging the student’s parents $8.99 for monthly protective services. Goudreau planned to offer a variety of options for clients, including a two-hour “masterclass” training for an active school shooting.

The Venezuelan fighters believed Goudreau to be their go-between, that he was mediating with the Trump administration to secure funding and equipment needed to complete the mission. Goudreau had insisted he could help, promising to train and arm the freedom fighters for the operation and quoting a $1.5 million price tag. He said he knew top people in the Trump administration, likely referencing the time he worked security for the president’s 2018 rally.

While Maduro described the captured Americans as “Trump’s security”, the U.S. president denied all knowledge, claiming that those who’d carried it out were a “rogue group”.

“I know nothing about it. I think the government has nothing to do with it at all, and I have to find out what happened,” said Trump. “If we ever did anything with Venezuela, it wouldn’t be that way. It would be slightly different. It would be called an invasion.”

The two Americans captured, Airan Berry, 41, and Luke Denman, 34, both former U.S. Special Forces soldiers who’d served with Goudreau in Iraq and Afghanistan, are currently in a Venezuelan prison.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured reporters on May 6 that “we will use every tool that we have available” to bring the two Americans home.

Goudreau, meanwhile, appears to have gone to ground as they say; prevented by coronavirus-related border closures from traveling to Colombia to join his ‘brothers in arms.’                   

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