The Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó keeps trying distancing itself from the amateurish invasion of U.S.-based mercenaries that the Venezuelan security forces crushed last but his denials are undercut by emerging evidence.
In a meeting last October with Jordan Goudreau, a 43-year-old Special Forces veteran who organized the invasion force, Guaidó “was saying all options were on the table, and under the table,” said J.J. Rendon, a Venezuelan political strategist. “We were fulfilling that purpose.”
After the Washington Post published a contract with Goudreau’s private security firm, signed by Guaidó, Rendon and another aide resigned.
The incident, notes Reuters, “has raised doubts about [Guaidó’s] leadership some 16 months since he first declared a rival presidency and denounced Maduro as a usurper who had overseen a six-year economic collapse.”
Last April, Guaidó announced an uprising to overthrow the Maduro government, which fizzled badly. In an effort to stay relevant, Guaidó and his advisers then turned to Goudreau’s Silvercorps for assistance in toppling Maduro.
By October, the plan had advanced to the point of a signed agreement, contingent on funding and other conditions. Rendón calls it a trial balloon, a test of what Goudreau could do that was never officially greenlighted. But the language of the agreement left no ambiguity on the objective: “An operation to capture/detain/remove Nicolás Maduro . . . remove the current Regime and install the recognized Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó.”
Whether the American firm planned to kidnap, arrest, or assassinate Maduro, they had Guaidó’s support.
The result was another defeat for Guaidó. The mercenaries he enlisted were intercepted in the seaside town of Chuao. Eight men were killed and more than fifty captured.
From the Guardian
One of the captured American attackers, Airan Berry, last week claimed, possibly under duress, that the group had been tasked with raiding Maduro’s presidential palace and seizing a local airport in order to spirit him out of the country. Many of the group are reportedly being held in El Helicoide, Venezuela’s most notorious political prison.
Another attempt to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela, originating in the United States has failed, even before it began. And the trail leads back to President Trump and to the history of the CIA in Latin America.
On Monday, Venezuelan security forces captured a force of 60 armed men, employed of Silvercorp USA, a privare security firm, as they attempted to land at the seaside town of Chuao. Eight people were killed, according to the Venezuelan government. The prisoners are being held by SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency, according to Veneuzelan sources.
President Nicholas Maduro is crowing in state-run media about the arrest of the invaders, while Venezuelan Twitter relishes the images of former American soldiers face down in handcuffs.
While the Trump administration and the Venezuelan opposition are denying any ties to the invaders, some connections have already emerged. On Sunday, Silvercorp USA’s Twitter account called President Trump’s attention to its already failing “incursion.” (Trump didn’t respond.)
According to Vice, Silvercorp USA boasted of doing security at a Trump rally in 2018. The Associated Press reports that Goudreau was introduced to Keith Schiller, President Trump’s longtime bodyguard, and accompanied him to a Miami meeting with representatives of Guaidó in May 2019.
The leaders of the U.S.-backed opposition ” knew of the covert force, even it they dismissed its prospects, ” according to AP.
This shambolic farce brings together various threads of Trump’s policy of “regime change” for Venezuela and links them, at least symbolically, to past CIA interventions in Nicaragua and Cuba.
Then there’s racist assumption that a Latin American military could not possibly be a match for a U.S.-backed force. That’s why the CIA invasion force was routed at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in April 1961. That’s why the CIA’a contra supply network was severed in Nicaragua in October 1986. Maybe Silvercorp USA was inspired by a new Jack Ryan video game about Venezuela.
Then, there’s recurring fantasy, peddled by Erik Prince, that U.S. foreign policy can be outsourced to mercenaries. The CIA attempted to do this in Syria, spending $1 billion supplying weapons to al-Qaeda-linked jihadists opposed to the Assad dictatorship. The CIA’s Operation Timber Sycamore failed utterly, and Trump did not take up Prince’s proposal.
The images of the captured Americans resemble nothing so much as the famous photo of Eugene Hasenfus, a CIA contractor who delivered arms to the Nicaraguan contras in 1986. When the Nicaraguans shot down his supply plane and paraded Hasenfus before TV cameras, the agency was exposed. The photo proved the agency was running an illicit resupply network in defiance of congressional prohibition on such aid. The Iran-Contra scandal broke a month later, and the Reagan presidency was never the same.
The obvious question–and it hasn’t been answered yet is–were these clowns working for or with the White House?
Planning for the incursion began after an April 30, 2019, barracks revolt by a cadre of soldiers who swore loyalty to Maduro’s would-be replacement, Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized by the United States and some countries. (The United Nations and other countries recognize the Maduro government). The uprising collapsed when Guaidó, a political novice appeared in public next to Leopold Lopez, a much-more controversial Venezuelan leader implicated in previous coup attempts in Venezuela.
Silvercorp USA regrouped by holding a meeting at a Marriott hotel in Columbia. One source quoted by AP called it a “Star Wars summit of anti-Maduro goofballs” — military deserters accused of drug trafficking, shady financiers and former Maduro officials seeking redemption.”
The ringleader was Jordan Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star recipient in Iraq and Afghanistan, who was investigated (and not charged, he says) for defrauding the U.S. military on housing expenses.
After retiring in 2016, he worked as a private security contractor in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. In 2018, he set up Silvercorp USA, a private security firm, near his home on Florida’s Space Coast to embed counter-terror agents in schools disguised as teachers. The company’s website features photos and videos of Goudreau firing machine guns in battle, running shirtless up a pyramid, flying on a private jet and sporting a military backpack with a rolled-up American flag.
In other words, Venezuela came to be a place where Goundrea projected his fantasies. For a picture from a stadium in Colombia, Goudreau wrote the caption: “Controlling chaos on the Venezuela border where a dictator looks on with apprehension.” At the time, Goudreau was a security guard at a music concert.
Goudreau sounds like a delusional goofball. There’s no evidence the CIA was involved. But the Silvercorps USA fantasies about Venezuela involve the same mix of arrogance, racism, and magical thinking that have informed U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
La misión declarada de SEBIN es “contribuir a la seguridad general, la defensa y el desarrollo de la nación como un elemento fundamental del sistema nacional de inteligencia y contrainteligencia mediante la identificación y neutralización de las amenazas que perjudican los intereses supremos de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, actuando dentro del Ley en estrecha observancia de las garantías y el respeto de los derechos humanos”.
SEBIN se estableció en 2009 tras la reorganización de la Dirección Nacional de Servicios de Inteligencia y Prevención (DISIP). Antes de que Hugo Chávez llegara al poder, DISIP trabajó estrechamente con la CIA. En 1972, un memorando desclasificado de la CIA muestra que Luis Posada Carriles, un cubano-americano capacitado por la agencia, de hecho sirvió como director adjunto de DISIP. En 1976, el FBI recibió información de una fuente que había hablado con Ricardo Morales Navarrete, un informante cubano en el exilio que trabajaba para DISIP, que Posada planeó el atentado de octubre de 1976 contra un avión cubano que mató a 73 personas mientras trabajaba en Caracas.
Con Chávez, SEBIN fue reorientado hacia una nueva función: la policía política de la revolución bolivariana. De acuerdo con el informe de 2018 de la Organización de Estados Americanos y un panel de expertos independientes, El personal de SEBIN ha sido implicado de manera creíble en abusos contra los derechos humanos, tortura, disparos contra manifestantes desarmados y represión de funcionarios y jueces electos.
La sede de SEBIN se encuentra en un edificio en forma de pirámide en el corazón de Caracas, conocido como el Helicoide. Dentro del edificio hay una prisión conocida como “La Tumba” donde el hacinamiento es endémico y la tortura es una rutina, según exprisioneros.
Tamara Suju, abogada criminalista y directora ejecutiva del Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos (CASLA), señaló a los investigadores de la OEA que había estado recopilando evidencia de casos individuales de tortura durante 15 años. Ella dijo que la tortura, utilizada selectivamente durante el gobierno de Chávez, se había vuelto tanto “desproporcionada” como recurrente, bajo el gobierno de Maduro.
“De hecho, el SEBIN y la Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar informan a la Oficina del Vicepresidente y reciben órdenes directas sobre el uso de la tortura del poder ejecutivo venezolano”, según el informe de la OEA.
Igor Buitrago, ex capitán de las Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales Bolivarianas, manifestó a la OEA que las fuerzas paramilitares progubernamentales conocidas como colectivos, actúan en coordinación con la Guardia Nacional, SEBIN y el Servicio de Contrainteligencia Militar, conocido como DGCIM.
En julio de 2017, los agentes de SEBIN arrestaron al juez de la Corte Suprema Ángel Zerpa. Maduro luego amenazó públicamente a los otros jueces con arresto, incautación de bienes y prohibición de abandonar el país. Dos días después, el juez Jesús Rojas Torres fue arrestado. Mientras estaba detenido en la sede de SEBIN y presuntamente después de ser torturado, el juez Rojas retiró su juramento.
“El SEBIN, coordinado desde la capital por el Director General Gustavo González López, intentó detener en sus hogares, uno por uno, a todos los jueces nombrados bajo las disposiciones de la Constitución”, señaló el informe. “La mayoría escapó, huyó a países vecinos o buscó refugio y protección en embajadas en Caracas”.
En marzo de 2015, Departamento del Tesoro de EE. UU. impuso sanciones financieras a Gustavo González López, director general del SEBIN. En febrero de 2019, el Tesoro sancionó a su sucesor, Manuel Christopher Figuera,
En abril, Figuera rompió con el gobierno y llamó a los venezolanos a apoyar al líder opositor Juan Guaidó. El 10 de mayo, los Estados Unidos levantó las sanciones sobre Figuera. Ese mismo día Maduro acusó a Christopher Figuera de haber estado trabajando para la CIA.
Christopher Figuera’s predecessor, Gustavo González López, was appointed to replace him.
The U.S. government has a long history of manipulating drug trafficking charges to advance geopolitical agenda. From 1975 to the late 1980s, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was on the CIA payroll. U.S. intelligence knew that Noriega permitted the Colombian cartels to ship cocaine through his country in return for huge cash payments. His drug activities were tolerated because he helped the CIA monitor leftist movements and other drug traffickers.
Then Noriega crossed the first Bush administration, and the U.S. invaded Panama. The justification: Noriega was a drug trafficker. The fact that the CIA had long known about and tolerated Noriega’s drug trafficking because he supported U.S. policy is beyond dispute.
The charges filed last week against Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro are another instance of drug war theater.
First, the charges need to be put in context. In the big picture of the illicit narcotics business, Venezuela is a small player. Ten times as much cocaine passes through Mexico as through Venezuela. Seven times as much passes through Guatemala. Colombia, Venezuela’s neighbor and a U.S. ally, produces and ships more cocaine than Venezuela. In short, Venezuela is one of the less important targets of U.S. counternarcotics policy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singles out Venezuela because Washington policymakers (and some Democrats) want to impose “regime change” on Venezuela. Drug trafficking charges make it harder for anyone Congress or the press to object to this policy. These charges will not deter drug trafficking in Venezuela. They will deter debate on Venezuela in Washington.
In the case of Maduro, however, the charges are more legend than fact, as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) reports.
Perhaps the most sensational aspect of the indictments is that one of them names Nicolás Maduro as the leader of a drug trafficking organization called the “Cartel of the Suns.” Journalists specializing in organized crime have for years called into question the existence of such an organization. In 2015, when it was Diosdado Cabello who was said to be the head of this cartel, Javier Mayorca, who has carefully researched the issue, said, “I doubt the existence of a Cartel of the Suns.” The term, he suggested has become “a sort of urban legend developing in Venezuela, which, over time, has been used to describe varying actors.”
As Insight Crime has suggested, “The drug trafficking structures in the Venezuelan state are not a cartel, they are a series of often competing networks buried deep within the Chavista regime, with ties going back almost two decades.“
While there is little doubt drug trafficking runs through the Maduro regime, the metaphor “Cartel of the Suns” overestimates its coherence and its articulation with Maduro himself. It is a dubious strategy that effectively provides a unitary name to a complex set of phenomena and helps portray it as a serious threat to U.S. security.
And then there’s this fact.
Venezuela remains a relatively minor player in the transnational drug trade. As WOLA has noted in a recent report, Venezuela is not a major transit country for drugs bound for the United States.
According to the U.S. interagency Consolidated Counterdrug Database (CCDB), 210 metric tons of cocaine passed through Venezuela in 2018. By comparison, in the same year about 10 times as much cocaine (2,370 metric tons) passed through Colombia, and seven times as much cocaine (1,400 metric tons) passed through Guatemala. Even when CCDB data shows drug trafficking through Venezuela peaked in 2017, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that no more than seven percent of total cocaine movement passed through the Eastern Caribbean, which includes Venezuela.
WOLA is left-liberal think tank in Washington with a track record of reliable reporting. While the Trump administration (and some sectors of the Democratic party) support “regime change” in Venezuela, WOLA is working for a negotiated settlement.
First, consider the source. That’s always a good idea when reading the news.
The source of this story, which is favorable to supporters of Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro, is the Digital Forensics Laboratory. DFRLab is part of the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO and pro-US. think tank in Washington. These organizations are not, in any way shape or form, sympathetic to the Maduro government.
Yet in a survey of social media traffic around recent competing protest demonstrations, the DFRLab concluded Maduro supporters generated more organic social media shares than supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido. Indeed, DFRLab detected signs that the Guaido tweeters were manipulating traffic more than the Maduro’s people.
This is what lawyers call an “admission against interest,” which makes the findings more credible in my book.
DFRLab compared traffic around two competing slogans. The pro-government hashtag is #TodaVzlaDespierta (“AllVenezuelaAwakens.” The anti-government hashtag is #VenezuelaContraElFascismo” (“VenezuelaAgainstFascism).
Guess who won?
Comparing a sample of 50,000 tweets posted on November 16 from both hashtags, there is indication that #TodaVzlaDespierta was more organic, while research showed signs of traffic manipulation in #VenezuelaContraElFascismo. The DFRLab defines traffic manipulation as the process whereby a small group of accounts attempt to amplify their presence online artificially by using bots, very high rates of posting, or a combination of tactics. Individual accounts posted the hashtag #TodaVzlaDespierta an average of 2.9 times, and the 10 percent most active accounts represented 49 percent of #TodaVzlaDespierta traffic. In comparison, accounts using the hashtag #VenezuelaContraElFascismo posted an average of 8.9 times, and the 10 percent most active accounts were responsible for 76 percent of the hashtag’s traffic, suggesting a group of accounts posted the hashtag repeatedly to make it seem more popular than it really was.
Here’s a story I did a while back about how DFRLab regurgitated anti-Iranian propaganda. I treat DFRLab findings with care.