Venezuela to try U.S. men allegedly “caught red-handed” in thwarted invasion attempt
Caracas — Venezuela will try two Americans allegedly captured during a failed bid by mercenaries to invade the country, President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday, as the U.S. vowed to “use every tool available” to bring them home.
Venezuela announced Monday that it had arrested the two former U.S. special forces soldiers on suspicion of trying to topple Maduro in an operation supported by the U.S.-backed opposition.
“They are convicts, confessed, caught red-handed and are being judged by the republic’s attorney general, by Venezuela’s civil courts, and the process will be full of guarantees and fair,” said Maduro.
The leader of the crisis-wracked South American country insisted the Americans, identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, were being “well treated, with respect.”
Maduro showed the passports of Denman, 34, and Berry, 41, on state television. The U.S. Army has confirmed they were former members of the Green Berets who were deployed to Iraq.
In Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the government would “use every tool that we have available to try to get them back.”
U.S. President Donald Trump had denied any involvement by his administration with the mission, and Washington accused Maduro of launching a “disinformation campaign.”
Russia, a close ally of Maduro’s, hit out at Mr. Trump on Wednesday and described his denials as “unconvincing.”
As CBS News State Department reporter Christina Ruffini reports, the U.S. has no official diplomatic relations with the Maduro regime. The Swiss government acts as Washington’s intermediary, but Venezuela has not accepted Swiss officials’ credentials in that role, so any consular efforts to reach the detained Americans will be handled unofficially by the Swiss.
Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said Monday that opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed by the U.S. and more than 50 countries, had signed a $212 million contract with “hired mercenaries” using funds seized by the United States from the state oil company PDVSA.
Denman and Berry are among 17 people arrested for allegedly being part of an invasion force that was intercepted early Sunday just off the coast, about 40 minutes from the capital Caracas.
Another eight alleged attackers were killed.
“They have confessed their guilt, they broke international law, they broke Venezuelan law,” Maduro said.
“They’re in the hands of justice now and we guarantee there will be justice in this case with these two Americans and with the rest of the mercenaries, and that the truth will come out.”
Maduro mocks Bay of Pigs “remake”
The president repeated his accusation that Mr. Trump was directly behind the attack, claiming he contracted with a former U.S. Army medic, Jordan Goudreau, to train the mercenary force.
“President Donald Trump is the direct leader of the whole incursion,” said Maduro, who showed a video in which Denman confesses he was hired by Goudreau for the mission, which first aimed to take control of the international airport in Caracas.
Maduro described the raid as a “remake” of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when Cuban exiles covertly financed and directed by the U.S. government attempted to overthrow then Cuba leader Fidel Castro.
Pompeo mocked Maduro’s claims, saying that if the United States “had been involved, it would have gone differently.”
Canadian-born Goudreau, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, has admitted the existence of the operation in a video, and claims the private security firm he runs, Silvercorp USA, was contracted by Venezuela’s opposition.
He told The Washington Post that he hired Denman and Berry as “supervisors” and had known them for years.
In the video, Goudreau shows what he claims is a contract signed by Guaido, whose press team subsequently denied having any agreements with private security firms.
Maduro — who has also accused the president of neighboring Colombia, Ivan Duque, of involvement —said he would ask the United States to extradite Goudreau.
The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that “all options are on the table” when discussing possible measures to help Guaido force Maduro from office.
Washington has also ramped up sanctions against Maduro, top members of his government, and PDVSA.
Venezuela, which is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues, is reeling from six years of recession, with millions of people facing a shortage of basic necessities.
Poverty has soared while around five million people have fled the country, according to United Nations figures.