Julian Borger in Washington, Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá and Chris McGreal
Fri 8 May 2020
Jordan Goudreau, a green beret turned security contractor who plotted to overthrow Maduro. Photograph: silvercorpusa/Instagram
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.
The plan to overthrow Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, and bundle him off to Florida to face drug trafficking charges seemed foolproof to a former US army staff sergeant, Jordan Goudreau, as he mapped it out in a luxury Miami apartment in late 2019. The 43-year-old Canadian-American was certain his years as a green beret in Iraq and Afghanistan had prepared him for the task.
And for the opponents of Maduro he was addressing, it must have sounded convincing – even after the failure of a previous coup attempt in 2019.
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.
Footage shows Venezuelan arrest of ‘mercenary’ in alleged US incursion – video
Goudreau announced what he called a “daring, amphibious raid” on Sunday afternoon. It was codenamed Operation Gideon after a biblical story symbolising the victory of a small military against a much stronger opponent.
“Our units have been activated in the south, west and in the east of Venezuela,” he said, dressed in a golf shirt and standing next to a former Venezuelan national guard captain wearing body armour, Javier Nieto Quintero.
But by then the plot had already fallen apart, not least because two days earlier the Associated Press had published a long investigation exposing the plan. If the AP knew it is likely the Venezuelan government did too.
Goudreau served in the Canadian military in the 1990s and studied at the University of Calgary before joining the US green berets. He spent 15 years as a medical sergeant, doing several stints in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After leaving the military Goudreau founded a security contractor, Silvercorp USA, in 2018. The company’s original plan was to provide guards to protect American schools from mass shootings.
Silvercorp’s website trumpets a series of overblown claims including that Goudreau led “international security teams for the President of the United States” (he had provided private security at Trump political rallies).
Early in 2019 Goudreau was providing security for a concert in aid of Venezuelan refugees on the Colombian border organised by Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of the Virgin conglomerate. There he met Clíver Alcalá, a Venezuelan former general who defected to the opposition. The pair began talking about how to overthrow Maduro.
By September the plotting had progressed to a meeting in Miami between Goudreau and Juan José Rendón, a Venezuelan exile appointed by Guaidó to strategise ways of taking power.