In late March, as much of the world was still going into lockdown, strange developments began to take place involving the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Not content with sanctioning the country to a degree that’s caused a massive fuel shortage and made responding to the ongoing health emergency much more difficult, the U.S. Justice Department issued indictments for the country’s president and others in his government on drug and weapons charges on the 26th of that month.
Then, in early April, U.S. navy ships were sent close to the nation’s territorial waters, with the American government claiming that they were being deployed as part narcotics interdiction efforts in the region. As some commentators have noted, the moves are eerily similar to early actions by the U.S. government before the 1989 invasion of Panama and the arrest of its leader, General Manuel Noriega, which resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.
The charges against the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro Moros, and the others are related to an entity called the Cartel del las Soles (Cartel of the Suns) that they and members of Colombia’s now-disbanded FARC guerrillas are accused of leading. The belief in the existence of this organization, which may or may not be fictional, traces back to two Venezuelan National Guard generals accused of involvement in the drug trade in 1993, more than five years before Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez won his first election.
The proof? The two men had patches with a sun on their uniforms.
Calling the alleged involvement of some individual actors in the country’s military with presumed internal drug trafficking, a “cartel”, as explained by the web-site, Insightcrime in the link cited above, “…is in some ways a misleading term, as it creates the impression that there is a hierarchical group, made up primarily of military officials, that sets the price of cocaine inside the country. There are cells within the main branches of the military — the army, navy, air force, and National Guard, from the lowest to the highest levels — that essentially function as drug trafficking organizations. However, describing them as a “cartel” in the traditional sense would be a leap.”
While Maduro, who rose from being a bus driver and union organizer to become his country’s foreign minister and then president, lacks the charisma of his predecessor and has become more dictatorial under the pressures faced while in office, including an attempted assassination by drone in August of 2018, the charges of drug and gun running don’t square with what we know about him, even from skeptical sources.
In a further twist to the ongoing story, on May 3rd, although the exact timing is unclear, it’s been reported that two speedboats owned by a Melbourne, Florida based security company, SilverCorp, holding a total of 60 mercenaries left training camps in Colombia for Venezuela with the stated goal of capturing the country’s presidential palace and possibly its international airport in Caracas.
The smaller of the boats arrived in Macuto Bay, a heavily populated area about an hour from Caracas the same day, where the heavily armed men aboard tried and mostly failed to disembark, with 6 killed and two detained by country’s navy and other security forces. One of those captured was said by Venezuela’s government to be a DEA agent.
The second boat, which was said to have run short of fuel on the journey from Colombia and arrived much later, at which point those aboard, most apparently seasick from the choppy waters, fought a 45 minute battle with Venezuelan security services and even local fishermen. In the end, 13 more invaders were captured, including two former U.S. Special Forces soldiers, with more arrests over the next few days.
The attempted coup, code-named Operation Gideon was so poorly planned that not only Venezuelan intelligence, which seemed to have infiltrated it, but the Associated Press, which reported on it before it was launched, knew the details of the plot.
Venezuela is now demanding the extradition of the perceived mastermind of the operation, a former soldier in both the Canadian and U.S. militaries, Jordon Goudreau, 43, whose firm SilverCorp, claimed to be working with the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaido to overthrow Bolivarian republic’s government and had the paperwork promising a payout of more than $200 million. Although he’s disputed it, the contract appears to have contained Guaido’s signature.
Besides implicating Guaido and others in the Venezuelan opposition, as reported by the Military Times, “Documents pitching the plan… included letterhead from a Washington consulting firm, as well as the names and credentials of President Donald Trump’s longtime bodyguard and another billionaire financier, all of whom have denied involvement in the ill-fated adventure.”
Goudreau, a former Green Beret and self-proclaimed ‘freedom fighter’, seems to have come up with the idea of plotting the coup after providing security services to the Live Aid Venezuela event sponsored by billionaire Richard Branson.
The $15 million dollar bounty on Maduro’s head and smaller ones on the others included in the Cartel del Soles indictment reportedly became more important to Goudreau as the initial funding he was expecting fell through and the ongoing health emergency pushed the launch date for the operation from March to May.
One of those believed to have worked with Goudreau on his plot has also accused by the U.S. Justice Department of involvement in drug trafficking: retired General Cliver Alcala, who had fled Venezuela for Colombia in 2018. At the beginning of this month it became public that Alcala had involved himself in Goudreau’s effort to overthrow his country’s government and even took credit for a shipment of arms seized by Colombian authorities. He is believed to have surrendered to American authorities and seems to have left his refuge, presumably for the United States, although his previous hosts claim they received no extradition request.
While American officials have been able to deny any involvement in the failed plot, it may not be so easy for Colombia’s rightwing government, which has long allowed its border to be used as a staging area for Venezuela’s opposition, to untangle itself from the mess.
As Ronal Rodriguez, the director of the Venezuelan Observatory at Colombia’s Rosario University explained to a reporter after the plot unraveled, “If the Colombian government knew about it and didn’t say anything, then their sin was omission. If they didn’t know about it, then the Venezuelan opposition has been walking all over them. … Either way, the Colombian state has been damaged, not just in the eyes of Venezuela but in the eyes of the world.”
Whatever one thinks of Venezuela’s government, the country’s long suffering people deserve better than being cast as expendable pawns in a struggle to secure the country’s vast oil and other resources for American and other multi-national corporate interests while convincing most of the world that the economic pain being felt by its citizens and the constant threats of war are in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. As long as the United States and its allies continue to create incentives for them, expect more mercenaries and grifters to come out of the woodwork looking to profit from Venezuela’s suffering.