Venezuelan security forces arrested at least eight people, reportedly including two Americans, after a beach invasion aimed at capturing socialist President Nicolas Maduro – a plot allegedly involving the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Powerful socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello posted on his social media a video of a Venezuelan identified as Josnars Adolfo Baduel, who was also detained, saying two US citizens were among those detained.
Baduel is shown responding to a security official who asks him about the two Americans captured. Venezuelan state television broadcast the video but did not identify the Americans.
A person familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency that the two US citizens were captured on Monday in a second-day roundup of accomplices and were believed to be in the custody of Venezuelan military intelligence. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the details came from contacts with Venezuelan security forces.
A Florida-based ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau confirmed to the Associated Press news agency that he was working with the two men in a mission launched early on Sunday to “liberate” Venezuela.
Goudreau has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s operation, which Venezuelan authorities say left eight people dead at a beach near the port city of La Guaira.
He identified the two former US veterans taken into Venezuelan custody as Luke Denman and Aaron Berry. The two served alongside him in Iraq and Afghanistan, Goudreau said.
Goudreau said the men were part of an alleged mission called “Operation Gideon”.
In a separate interview with Reuters news agency, Gourdreau confirmed the names of the two Americans.
Political, economic turmoil
Venezuela has been in a deepening political and economic crisis under Maduro’s rule.
Crumbling public services such as running water, electricity and medical care have driven nearly five million people to migrate.
But Maduro still controls all levers of power despite a US-led campaign to remove him. It recently indicted Maduro as a drug trafficker and offered a $15 million reward for his arrest.
Venezuela and the US broke diplomatic ties last year amid heightened tensions, so there is no US embassy in Caracas.
“I’ve tried to engage everybody I know at every level,” Goudreau told AP of the attempt to help his detained colleagues. “Nobody’s returning my calls, It’s a nightmare.”
Goudreau has said he signed a contract with the US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to overthrow Maduro, which Guaido has denied. The opposition leader said he had nothing to do with Sunday’s raid.
Goudreau said the opposition politician never fulfilled the contract, but he pushed ahead with an underfunded operation with just 60 fighters, including the two US veterans.
He said he last communicated with Denman and Berry when they were adrift in a boat “hugging” the Caribbean coast of Venezuela. They were still in their boat following an initial confrontation with the Venezuelan Navy early on Sunday, he said.
“They were running dangerously low on fuel,” Goudreau said. “If they had gone onto landfall, they would have gone to a safe house.”
Goudreau said the two were waiting for a boat on the Caribbean island of Aruba with emergency fuel to help extract them.
Venezuelan authorities said on Monday they arrested another eight accused “mercenaries” in a coastal town and showed images on state TV of several unidentified men handcuffed and lying prone in a street.
Among them was a National Guardsman Captain Antonio Sequea, who participated in a barracks revolt against Maduro a year ago. Goudreau said Sequea was a commander working with him in recent days on the ground in Venezuela.
Venezuelan state TV showed authorities handling a shirtless Sequea in handcuffs.
Maduro ally and Attorney General Tarek William Saab said that in total they had arrested 114 people suspected of involvement in the attempted attack and they are on the hunt for 92 others.
Officials in Venezuela’s government accuse Colombia and the US of organising and carrying out the attack aiming to overthrow Maduro. Both US and Colombian officials have denied the Venezuelan allegations.
Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star US combat veteran, claims the deadly seaborne raid was launched from Colombia early on Sunday.
An AP investigation published on Friday had found that Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general – who now faces US narcotics charges – to train dozens of deserters from Venezuela’s security forces at secret camps inside Colombia.
Guaido on Monday denied having anything to do with an ex-Green Beret. In a statement, he said he has “no relationship nor responsibility for any actions” taken by the US war veteran.
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