US President Donald Trump has denied any involvement by the United States Government in what Venezuelan officials have called a failed armed incursion that led to the capture of two American “mercenaries”.
- President Maduro said authorities arrested 13 “terrorists” involved in what he described as a plot coordinated with Washington
- The two detained Americans — former special operations forces members — are believed to be in Venezuela’s custody
- The US has waged a campaign of tough economic sanctions against Venezuela in an effort to oust Mr Maduro
Mr Trump made the comment to reporters at the White House on Tuesday [local time] after socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said authorities there had detained two US citizens working with a US military veteran who has claimed responsibility for the foiled operation.
“We’ll find out. We just heard about it,” Mr Trump said when asked about the incident and the Americans’ arrests.
In a state television address, Mr Maduro said authorities arrested 13 “terrorists” on Monday [local time] involved in what he described as a plot coordinated with Washington to enter the country via the Caribbean coast and oust him.
Eight people were killed during the incursion attempt on Sunday, Venezuelan authorities said.
Mr Maduro showed what he said were the US passports and other identification cards belonging to Airan Berry and Luke Denman, whom he said were in custody and had been working with Jordan Goudreau, an American military veteran who leads a Florida-based security company called Silvercorp USA.
The two detained Americans, former special operations forces members who had served with Mr Goudreau, were believed to be in the custody of Venezuelan military intelligence, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr Goudreau released a video identifying himself as an organiser of the operation, alongside dissident Venezuelan military officer Javier Nieto.
He identified one of the fighters as “Commander Sequea,” which appeared to be a reference to Antonio Sequea, who was identified by Venezuelan state television as one of the people arrested.
Silvercorp’s website describes Mr Goudreau as a “highly decorated Special Forces Iraq and Afghanistan veteran”.
The US State Department did not provide any immediate comment on the arrests. US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, strongly denied any US Government role in the incursions.
US deploying ‘maximum pressure’ strategy to oust Maduro
Washington has waged a campaign of tough economic sanctions and diplomatic measures against Venezuela in an effort to oust Mr Maduro, accusing him of having rigged elections in 2018.
But while Mr Trump has repeatedly said all options are on the table, his administration has shown no apparent interest in military action as it pursues what it calls a “maximum pressure” strategy against Mr Maduro.
Mr Maduro’s Government, however, says the United States wants to control the OPEC member nation’s massive oil reserves.
Since early 2019, the United States and dozens of other countries, including Australia, have recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president.
But Mr Maduro remains in power, backed by the military as well as Russia, Cuba and China, which some US officials say privately is a source of frustration for Mr Trump.
Mr Guaido — often derided by Mr Maduro as a US puppet — cast doubt on the Government’s version of Sunday’s events. He insisted that Mr Maduro was seeking to distract from other problems in recent days, including a deadly prison riot and a violent gang battle in Caracas, the capital.
The Venezuelan Government, presiding over an economic meltdown, is also struggling to cope with the global spread of the coronavirus.