Trump Denies US Role in What Venezuela Says Was ‘Mercenary’ Incursion

May 5, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2020

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump on May 5 denied any involvement by the U.S. government in what Venezuelan officials have called a failed armed incursion in the South American country that led to the capture of two American “mercenaries.”

Trump made the comment to reporters at the White House after socialist Venezuelan regime leader Nicolas Maduro on May 4 said authorities there had detained two U.S. citizens working with a U.S. military veteran who has claimed responsibility for the foiled operation.

“We’ll find out. We just heard about it,” Trump said when asked about the incident and the Americans’ arrests. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”

In a state television address, Maduro said authorities arrested 13 “terrorists” on May 4 involved in what he described as a plot coordinated with Washington to enter the country via the Caribbean coast and oust him.

Before dawn on May 3, officials say the first attack started on a beach near Venezuela’s port city of La Guaira when security forces made the first two arrests and killed eight others attempting to make a landing by speedboats.

Maduro showed what he said were the U.S. 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 Goudreau, were believed to be in the custody of Venezuelan military intelligence, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The State Department did not provide any immediate comment on the arrests. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, had strongly denied any U.S. government role in the incursions.

Venezuela and the United States broke diplomatic ties in 2019 amid heightened tensions, so there is no U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

Washington has waged a campaign of tough economic sanctions and diplomatic measures against Venezuela in an effort to oust Maduro, accusing him of having rigged elections in 2018.

But while 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 Maduro.

Guaido: Maduro Seeks to Distract

Since early 2019, the United States and dozens of other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president.

But Maduro remains in power, backed by the military as well as Russia, Cuba, and China, which some U.S. officials say privately is a source of frustration for Trump.

The Venezuelan government, presiding over an economic meltdown, is also struggling to cope with the global spread of the CCP virus.

May 4 arrests come after Maduro’s regime on May 3 announced it had thwarted a “mercenary incursion.”

Goudreau released a video identifying himself as an organizer 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 state television as one of the people arrested.

Silvercorp’s website describes Goudreau as a “highly decorated Special Forces Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.”

Goudreau said by telephone on May 4 that 52 other fighters had infiltrated Venezuelan territory and were in the first stage of a mission to recruit members of the security forces to join their cause.

An investigation found that Goudreau had been working with a retired Venezuelan army general—who now faces U.S. narcotics charges—to train dozens of deserters from Venezuela’s security forces at secret camps inside neighboring Colombia. The goal was to mount a cross-border raid that would end in Maduro’s arrest.

By Steve Holland & Matt Spetalnick

The Associated Press contributed to this report