The plan was simple but perilous. Some 300 heavily armed volunteers planned to sneak into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America and ignite a popular rebellion that would end in President Nicolas Maduro’s arrest.
Instead, the ringleader of the plot is now jailed in the U.S. on narcotics charges. Authorities in Colombia are asking questions about the role of his former U.S. Green Beret adviser. And dozens of combatants who flocked to secret training camps in Colombia have been left to fend for themselves amid a global pandemic.
This bizarre, never-told story of a call to arms that crashed before it launched is drawn from interviews with more than 30 Maduro opponents directly involved in or familiar with its planning. Most spoke on condition of anonymity fearing retaliation.
The poorly-planned operation stood little chance of beating the Venezuelan Army, said Ephraim Mattos, a former U.S. Navy SEAL who trained some of the would-be combatants in basic first aid. “You’re not going to take out Maduro with 300 hungry, untrained men,” Mr. Mattos said.
When hints of the conspiracy surfaced last month, the Maduro-controlled state media portrayed it as a CIA plot. An Associated Press investigation found no evidence of U.S. government involvement in the plot. Nevertheless, interviews revealed that leaders of Venezuela’s U.S.-backed opposition knew of the covert force, even if they dismissed its prospects.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido was also told about it but was not involved and showed little interest, according to Hernan Aleman, a Venezuelan lawmaker.
Planning for the incursion began in the aftermath of an April 30, 2019, barracks revolt by a cadre of soldiers who swore loyalty to Mr. Guaido, recognised by the U.S. as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
A few weeks later, some involved in the failed rebellion retreated to Bogota, Colombia. That’s where they met Jordan Goudreau, an American citizen and three-time Bronze Star recipient who served as a medic in U.S. Army special forces.
Mr. Goudreau, 43, said in a written statement that he would not “confirm nor deny any activities in any operational realm.” Venezuelans he interacted with described him alternately as a freedom-loving patriot, a mercenary, and a gifted warrior.
After retiring from the Army in 2016, he set up Silvercorp USA, a private security firm, near his home in Melbourne, Florida. Mr. Goudreau’s focus on Venezuela started in February 2019, when he worked private security at a concert on the Venezuelan-Colombian border in support of Mr. Guaido. In Bogota, Lester Toledo, Mr. Guaido’s aide, introduced Mr. Goudreau to a rebellious former Venezuelan military officer — Cliver Alcalr.
Mr. Alcalr and Mr. Goudreau told the volunteers that — once challenged in battle — Mr. Maduro’s troops would collapse like dominoes. The plot came to an end in late March when Colombian police stopped a truck transporting a cache of brand new weapons. Mr. Alcalr claimed ownership of the weapons shortly before surrendering to face the U.S. drug charges.
After the would-be insurrection collapsed, Mr. Maduro’s allies celebrated. Socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello said the government was aware of the plot for at least six months. ”We knew everything,” said Mr. Cabello. “Some of their meetings we had to pay for. That’s how infiltrated they were.”