Analysis. Something between a farce and the Bay of Pigs, ‘Operation Gideon’ ended in eight dead and 13 jailed. It was an episode perfectly suited for a US administration of incompetent hawks.

The clearance aisle mercenaries whose Caracas coup failed spectacularly

There was a code name, there were automatic weapons, landing boats and transport vehicles. There were fighters and consultants from the land of stars and stripes—all the canonical ingredients of an old-fashioned coup in “America’s backyard.” Unfortunately for them, there were also some very unevenly trained troops and an amateurish organization.

That was how “Operation Gideon,” which was supposed to trigger the general insurrection to “free Venezuela from the yoke of Maduro,” was nipped in the bud at the rocks of Macuto, where the “liberators” were intercepted by troops from the national army.

In the clash, eight rebels lost their lives and 13 were taken prisoners. Two American citizens were captured off the coast while waiting on the landing boats for “extraction.”

The affair, something between a farce and the Bay of Pigs, ended ignominiously at dawn on May 3, almost on the anniversary of another attempt to depose Nicolas Maduro, the so-called Operacion Libertád of April 30, 2019, when the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaidó, led a demonstration trying to give rise to a popular uprising with the support of some departments of the National Guard and the municipal and state police. That attempt also failed, after the army remained loyal to the incumbent president.

This time as well, just like back then, the operation has been officially disavowed by Washington, although on this occasion—in addition to the Americans captured on the boats—one can trace a more explicit authorship to the plan: namely, Jordan Goudreau, a former Green Beret (the special troops of the US Army), veteran of the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns and now owner of Silvercorp USA, a “private security” company based in Florida, specialized, as they write on their website, in “providing governments and corporations with timely and realistic solutions to irregular problems.”

Goudreau appears in a video that came out as soon as the operation started. In the film, the coup impresario appears next to Javier Nieto Quintero, a former officer of the Venezuelan National Guard and a well-known member of the anti-Maduro camp. “At 5 p.m., a daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas and the heart of Venezuela,” says the freelance ex-Green Beret.

“Our men are fighting. Our units have been activated in the south, east and west of Venezuela,” Goudreau said. In reality, the rebels, which recalled the bumbling army in the comedy For Love and Gold, met their fate on a beach near La Guaira.

This farcical operation has once again embarrassed the US, immediately denounced by Maduro as a sponsor of a subversion, contracted out to third parties to take credit in case of success or to disavow it just as comfortably in case of failure. “If we had been involved, it would have gone differently,” said Mike Pompeo, with a kind of macho bravado that is itself a very vintage element.

Once again, Guaidó and the opposition denied any connection with the catastrophic raid, and here things get more complicated. Goudreau actually has a long history of dealing with the Venezuelan opposition, reconstructed by the AP in an article published a few days before Operation Gideon.

Goudreau’s involvement in Venezuelan affairs dates back to February 2019, when he was hired to provide security services during Venezuela Aid Live, a concert organized on the Colombian-Venezuelan border by British billionaire Richard Branson as a benefit for the Venezuelan people (and, in particular, Guaidó’s party).

According to a former business partner, that experience persuaded Goudreau that Venezuelan instability and the doctrine of regime change being promoted by Trump’s White House would make the country an excellent market for his company’s “solutions to irregular problems.” Shortly afterwards, Goudreau became acquainted with Keith Schiller, Trump’s former personal bodyguard from his days at Trump Tower, later promoted to special advisor to the president at the White House and now an operator in the lucrative security industry—which apparently includes that of “irregular problems.” Schiller also has connections to the Venezuelan opposition.

In March of last year, and then again in May, Schiller introduced Goudreau to Lester Toledo and other allies of Guaidó who are in the business of raising financing and political support between Washington and Miami. In turn, Toledo introduced Goudreau to Cliver Alcalá, a key figure in the Venezuelan opposition.

Alcalá, a former general of the Bolivarian army (who was later arrested for drug trafficking) and a leader of the anti-Maduro movement, told Goudreau that he had 300 deserters ready for an incursion into Venezuela—the only thing needed would be to train them. Goudreau gave him a quote of $1.5 million to prepare these troops. The contract is said to have been signed by envoys of Guaidó himself.

The training began, but it became immediately apparent that the situation was less than promising: witnesses tell of camps without equipment and supplies, full of hungry and demoralized men.

At this point, Guaidó apparently terminated the contract. But Goudreau decided to proceed with the mission anyway, with private funding from paramilitary organizations and the US fundamentalist right wing.

In March, the Colombian police seized military supplies worth $150,000 from the group: automatic weapons without serial numbers and various military equipment, including tactical helmets with infrared sights from the United States. At the end of March, Alcalá was captured by agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, which had issued a warrant for his arrest for drug trafficking, and was extradited to New York. The operations seemed to have stopped for good—until last Sunday, that is.

In a video broadcast by Venezuelan authorities, Luke Alexander Denman, one of the two captured American mercenaries from Silvercorp, confirmed that their orders were to arrive in Caracas, seize the airport, capture the air traffic control tower and ground the planes. There was even supposed to be a plane ready to take Maduro to the United States after his capture.

It is difficult to know what reasons could have prompted Goudreau to pursue this lost cause as a freelancer—or if he had found new backers. The story is certainly part of a long trail of previous attempts, which, in addition to last year’s attempted uprising, also includes the failed attack against Maduro in 2018. In the background of all this is the escalation of tension driven by the new hawks that have made their nests at the White House.

The Venezuelan strategy of the American administration, fond of neo-Cold-War policies, has been entrusted to Elliot Abrams, a war criminal convicted for the massacres he masterminded in El Salvador and Nicaragua during the Reagan wars, now given a clean record and rehabilitated by Trump. Washington’s policy is well summarized by the international arrest warrant issued for Maduro himself (with a $10 million bounty) on charges of involvement in “narco-terrorism.”

In April, under the same pretext of fighting drug trafficking, Trump—while clamorously failing at setting up effective coordination to deal with the pandemic—announced an escalation of military operations in the Caribbean, with a large deployment of cruisers, helicopters and coast guard vessels. It was an operation aimed largely at being a show of strength directed at Maduro, now officially one of the most wanted targets in the war on drugs. Even more, Pompeo himself said in February that he had put together a coalition of 59 nations to undermine Maduro (an objective that is also shared, among others, by the Democratic candidate for the presidency, Joe Biden).

It is a climate of high tension mixed with incompetence that favors the Wild West-style initiatives of operators such as Goudreau or Erik Prince, a mercenary tycoon who has earned millions of dollars by providing contractors for the Iraqi occupation and for the CIA. In April, Prince, who visited Venezuela last November, also proposed to organize a force of 5,000 rebels to march on Caracas.

This is all part of the same world as that of Jordan Goudreau, architect of the disastrous Operation Gideon, which has momentarily brought to the surface a part of the archipelago of subversive malfeasance that is thriving among the undergrowth of Trumpism.

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