How the bizarre Venezuelan ‘Bay of Piglets’ plot fell apart

As more details emerge of the foiled attempt on Tuesday, May 5th at overthrowing the Venezuelan government of president Nicolas Maduro, the sheer ineptitude and hubris and arrogance of the plotters becomes ever more incredible to behold. Take this report about the ringleader, a former member of the US Special Forces Green Berets named Jordan Goudreau and how he worked with representatives of Juan Guaidó, the person the US treats as the president of that country even though, you know, he is not, to plan and implement the foiled attempt.

As get-rich-quick schemes go it was unusually complicated. Invade a foreign country you know little about. Abduct its president to the US. Collect a $15m bounty from the US government – and maybe an even bigger payoff from the people who then seize power.

Representatives of Juan Guaidó – the opposition leader recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate president by the US and most of its allies – signed a fat contract engaging Goudreau to overthrow Maduro.

But in interviews with the Guardian, a senior opposition figure said they grew to doubt Goudreau and eventually broke with him months before he launched a disastrous raid this week that echoed the botched 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

The flaws in his plan were laid bare as two bedraggled ex-US special forces soldiers were paraded alongside other members of the ragged invasion force. Airan Berry and Luke Denman were captured at sea before they even set foot on Venezuelan soil.

Eight people were reported killed in the botched invasion and more than 100 others arrested. Berry and Denman later appeared on Venezuelan state television outlining the supposed plan to seize the presidential palace and whisk Maduro to the US.

But two days before the invasion, the Associated Press published an article that gave details about the plan and said that the Venezuelan government knew of it too.

The plan was simple, but perilous. Some 300 heavily armed volunteers would sneak into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America. Along the way, they would raid military bases in the socialist country and ignite a popular rebellion that would end in President Nicolás Maduro’s arrest.

What could go wrong? As it turns out, pretty much everything.

The ringleader of the plot is now jailed in the U.S. on narcotics charges. Authorities in the U.S. and Colombia are asking questions about the role of his muscular American adviser, a former Green Beret. And dozens of desperate combatants who flocked to secret training camps in Colombia said they have been left to fend for themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The failed attempt to start an uprising collapsed under the collective weight of skimpy planning, feuding among opposition politicians and a poorly trained force that stood little chance of beating the Venezuelan military.

Meanwhile, the socialist leadership in Caracas couldn’t help but gloat.

Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 most powerful person in the country and eminence grise of Venezuela’s vast intelligence network, insisted that the government had infiltrated the plot for months.

“We knew everything,” said Cabello. “Some of their meetings we had to pay for. That’s how infiltrated they were.”

Jeremy Kryt has more, in this report titled Trump Just Inspired the Dumbest Damned Coup Plot in LatAm History, Complete with a QAnon Crazy.

Headlines about the op have embarrassed Donald Trump’s U.S. administration even more than earlier failed efforts to oust the putrid dictatorship of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Trump is saying he had no hand in this thing, which might just be true.

But there’s no question the conspirators thought he’d be pleased, and pay cash, if they succeeded.

Just a few weeks ago, on March 26, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised very big rewards for “information leading to the arrest and/or conviction” of the top people in a Venezuelan regime that the United States no longer recognizes: $15 million for Maduro himself, and $10 million each for four of his top officials, all charged by Washington with drug trafficking.

So, yeah, $55 million in rewards, that’s a bit of an incentive for would-be Rambos.

In the old days, the CIA tried to back coups with secret funding, and then denied what it was doing if it got caught. The Trump administration appears to have tried something like that last year, and failed. So now, flailing, it’s offering tens of millions of dollars—in public—but also hints and nudges to suggest there are big plots and plans afoot.

Thus Pompeo on Wednesday alluded to President Trump’s remark that there was no U.S. government direct involvement in this operation, then added, “If we had been involved, it would have gone differently.” Of course. “As for who bankrolled it, we’re not prepared to share any more information about what we know took place. We’ll unpack that at an appropriate time. We’ll share that information that makes good sense.”

Which is to say: We will continue to bullshit you until somebody gets the job done, we hope.

But these guys? These guys just weren’t up to it.

Kryt says that one of the captured ex-Green Berets, Airan Berry, appears to be a devotee of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits a “deep state” plot targeting President Trump.” Yes, QAnon, the wackiest of wacky conspiracy theorists that I have written about many times before.

Kryt goes on:

Interventions, invasions, occupations, and covert operations continued almost to the end of the 20th century. Again and again, right up through the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and the CIA-run Contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, U.S. politicians, adventurers, and spooks harbored the fatal illusion that tiny groups could spark mass uprisings. All of which is familiar history in South America, and largely forgotten in the North.

“One of the greatest failures of U.S. policy is to view Latin America through imperial eyes, failing to see the reality on the ground,” says Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Venezuelan studies at Pomona College in California. “In Venezuela, as elsewhere, they rely on a handful of individuals that parrot U.S. policy.”

Some of that parroting might have misled Gideon’s modern-day William Walkers, those Rambos without a cause. Although Trump paints Maduro as a hated figure, and many middle and upper class Venezuelans oppose him, he remains popular with the impoverished lower classes, for whom he provides generous subsidies for food and fuel. Most military commanders have stayed loyal as well, despite concerted efforts by U.S. Republicans, Venezuelan opposition figures, and whatever clandestine operatives Washington has at work to sway them.

“The more radical elements of the Venezuelan opposition have since 2014 promoted the narrative that Maduro is teetering and only needs a push to fall,” said Tinker Salas. “As tragic as it may be, this is not the first time the U.S. is guilty of believing its own fabricated rhetoric.”

The attempts by the US government to claim no knowledge of this putsch are not credible.

So far, no direct evidence has surfaced that links either Bogotá or Washington to the training camps or Operation Gideon. But that doesn’t mean they’re not complicit in this fiasco.

“It is impossible to imagine that the U.S. government did not have prior knowledge of the operation. U.S. intelligence closely follows developments along the Colombian-Venezuelan border where these individuals purportedly trained,” Tinker Salas said.

For Salas, the use of irregular forces allows the U.S. to maintain “plausible deniability while hoping to reap any benefits that might have been derived from the operation.”

Alex Main at CEPR agreed. “It is highly unlikely that the Colombian government, which maintains very close military ties to the U.S. government, wouldn’t have been informed of [these] activities,” he said. He also pointed out that the Trump administration has a long track record of openly threatening regime change and military intervention against Maduro.

“The U.S. government was probably directly aware of the ongoing plans to mount another armed attack from Colombia.” If either Trump or President Duque were concerned about that, Main said, “they could have intervened a long time ago.”

Ellner added that tactically savvy Green Berets would have been unlikely to undertake such a risky mission if they hadn’t believed at least tacit international support was behind them.

“Obviously Goudreau was confident that once the military incursion showed signs of viability, the rebels could count on the solid backing of Washington and Bogotá,” he said.

This is just the latest in a long line of attempts by the US to overthrow governments they dislike. In many such cases they believe their own propaganda that the people of that country hate the government so much that just a nudge by a small invading force will result in the population rising up and overthrowing the government. This operation was titled Operation Gideon, named after a biblical story in which a small force tricked a much larger enemy into thinking that a huge army was attacking them and persuaded them to give up without a fight. But whatever their views about their own government, people often do not like foreign intervention in their internal affairs. The US should know this, given the massive outrage in the US just over foreign trolls circulating misinformation on social media.

But the media will quickly let this story disappear in the wake of distractions. Look over there! Some foreign troll has just posted a meme on social media about the US elections! Don’t they know that only the US has the right to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries?


  1. says

    The ringleader of the plot is now jailed in the U.S. on narcotics charges.

    I wonder how they’ll convince him to hang himself in his cell.

  2. says

    But there’s no question the conspirators thought he’d be pleased, and pay cash, if they succeeded.

    They thought that Trump would pay for something? Stiffing contractors is his religion. Even had they succeeded they would have never seen a cent of pay, unless they were able to attach their activities to one of Kushner or Erik Prince’s companies which would, naturally, take their cut out of the middle. These guys were clearly sub-par on intelligence, but what should we expect from special forces?

  3. Owlmirror says

    They thought that Trump would pay for something? Stiffing contractors is his religion

    Not disputing this, but Trump has no problem with paying for stuff using other people’s money. And given that this is Trump, he’d want to take the money from something that would, as they say, “own the libs”. Probably something like the foreign aid program, or something like that.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ Marcus
    I wonder how they’ll convince him to hang himself in his cell.

    They will just let things calm down, release and rehabilitate him as a staunch freedom fighter (and tell him to be more careful next time).

  5. jrkrideau says

    this is not the first time the U.S. is guilty of believing its own fabricated rhetoric

    Wasn’t Iraq to be a cakewalk? IIRC the US had Achmad Chalibi’s assurances.

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