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Venezuela Mercenaries Not A Military Threat – But Could They Hurt Maduro And Guaidó Politically?

Matias Delacroix
Venezuelan security forces guard the shore near La Guaira where one of the boats mercenaries used to raid the country was seized on Sunday.

Venezuela says it’s captured two Americans allegedly leading mercenary soldiers against the country’s authoritarian government. They aren’t much of a threat militarily but image-wise they could be, both for the regime and for Venezuela’s opposition.

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says his government arrested two former U.S. special forces soldiers: Luke Denman and Airan Berry. They allegedly led mercenaries in boats on an incursion into Venezuela on Sunday. Maduro said 13 others were arrested and eight killed.

Their goal was to capture Maduro and topple his authoritarian socialist regime. That’s according to the operation’s top leader – an ex-U.S. Green Beret named Jordan Goudreau who lives in Florida. Ina video released over the weekend by Goudreau and another mercenary commander, former Venezuelan National Guard officer Javier Nieto, Goudreau announces, “At 1700 hours, a daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas" and insists "our men are still fighting."

Goudreau’s heroic rhetoric hardly matched reality, however. In an Associated Press report last week, several sources described Goudreau as a delusional soldier of fortune who's been training exiled Venezuelans in Colombia to mount an invasion against Maduro. They call his refugee force rag-tag at best, so Sunday's debacle came as little surprise.

But Venezuela analysts say Goudreau could do political damage to Maduro – and especially to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and almost 60 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate president. Guaidó, this week, is denying Goudreau’s claim that he signed a contract to pay the mercenaries millions of dollars to prepare and mount the raid.

“I think it’s very, very negative for Guaidó internationally and inside the country as well," says Dimitris Pantoulas, a political analyst in Caracas. "People may [say] the leadership of Guaidó doesn’t work anymore."

But, adds Pantoulas, the mercenary activities and the headaches they cause the regime, "make Maduro as well appear weak and unstable. It’s a big image problem for him too."

Maduro insists the U.S. is behind the mercenary mission as part of a coup plot against him. The Trump Administration denies any involvement.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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