There are many striking and absurd details about the haphazard and sure-to-fail coup attempt a former Green Beret attempted to carry out against socialist Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro early Sunday morning.
Jordan Goudreau, the ex-Green Beret behind the plot, sent a small group of supposed mercenaries barreling toward the Venezuelan coast on speedboats. He live-tweeted the efforts, even tagging President Donald Trump. He entrusted the operation to a QAnon conspiracy theorist. And even with eight people dead and two Americans arrested, he insisted his crusade was only beginning.
But none of those details is as astounding and revealing as one particular nugget in The Washington Post’s deep-dive into how exactly the entire episode came about: Top officials in the Venezuelan opposition were initially attracted to Goudreau’s plan because he offered to do it on the cheap.
Goudreau, whose security consulting firm has apparently worked at least one Trump rally, met with a J.J. Rendón, a top Venezuelan opposition figure, last September to pitch his plan, the Post reported Wednesday night.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó placed Rendón in charge of a new “Select Committee,” a body created to craft a plan to topple Maduro by force rather than through negotiations. It had “studied the possibility of effectively kidnapping Maduro and his close associates” for more than a month before Goudreau arrived for the meeting in Florida, the Post said.
Potential partners had asked for as much as $500 million to do the deed. The ex-Green Beret, however, offered to take just $212.9 million, the Post reported, for the simple task of organizing angry Venezuelan military defectors, invading a country ruled by a strongman with a more-than-capable military at his disposal, making it to Caracas without being sussed out by Maduro’s intelligence or public security apparatuses, kidnapping Maduro and his wife, and then figuring the rest out from there.
The whole plan eventually fell apart when Guaidó and the opposition became wary of Goudreau ― shockingly, the Dollar Store coup-monger wasn’t all he was cracked up to be ― and backed out of the deal they may or may not have reached, depending on which side of the story one believes. (One thing both sides seem to agree on is that the opposition didn’t provide financial backing.)
But the ex-Green Beret didn’t abandon his plans, and on Sunday provided a good look at what a clearance-aisle coup really looks like. His invasion of Venezuela was swiftly put down and at least eight people were killed. Another dozen or so were arrested, including two U.S. military veterans who were working for Goudreau’s security consultancy business, Silvercorp USA.
“We knew everything,” Maduro said on state TV Sunday, although that didn’t exactly require top-tier intelligence work on his part.
At the end of March, Goudreau’s main ally, a hard-line former Venezuelan general, broadcast the plans to anyone who’d listen, then turned himself in to Colombian officials and was deported to the United States, where he’s currently in prison on drug trafficking charges. Goudreau, meanwhile, posted multiple tweets telling the world that he was about to do a coup.
On Friday night, The Associated Press detailed the plot and the people behind it, as well as how “pretty much everything” about the plan had already gone wrong.
Then Goudreau and company went ahead with the plan anyway, with predictable results.
The first boat the men piloted toward the Venezuelan coast attempted to land just a couple of miles from the country’s busiest port, where it was spotted by fishermen who reportedly alerted the armed forces. The area the men hoped to enter, it turns out, is also near a Venezuelan naval base.
“It’s like trying to invade the U.S. by disembarking with a few ill-prepared commandos in Atlantic City or Venice Beach, but also with the roads full of checkpoints because of the lockdowns during a pandemic,” Caracas Chronicles, a Venezuelan analysis site, wrote.
Still not convinced that this was all a very bad idea, Goudreau’s crew sent another boat jetting toward the coast. The men on board, including two American military veterans, were immediately arrested.
“'We knew everything,' Maduro said on state TV Sunday, although that didn’t exactly require top-tier intelligence work on his part.”
Guaidó has denied that the opposition had anything to do with Sunday’s attempt to topple Maduro, but the Post’s reporting makes it clear that its willingness to entertain far-fetched ideas for violently deposing Maduro played at least some role in setting the stage for Goudreau’s rogue mission.
Trump, who backs Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and has sought to oust Maduro since the beginning of his presidency, denied that the United States had any involvement as well ― an assertion U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated on Wednesday.
But even if there’s no evidence the U.S. was aware of or involved in the plot, as the AP reported, it’s plausible that Trump’s rabid “maximum pressure” campaign against Venezuela ― and his decision to place a $15 million bounty on Maduro’s head in March — helped fuel the absurd belief that a ragtag band of low-rent mercenaries could waltz into Caracas to cheering masses who’d greet them as liberators as they toppled an entrenched authoritarian.
The ramifications will be many: At the very least, this is a deep embarrassment for the opposition, which handed Maduro a massive boost he’s already taking advantage of. At worst, it may significantly damage the prospects of a diplomatic solution to Venezuela’s political crisis, even as it bolsters the idea that negotiations were more likely to lead to a positive outcome than “maximum pressure” and the aggression that came with it.
The best takeaway here is the simplest: Just don’t do coups. And certainly, never settle for the half-price coup.