Colombia targets ex US Green Beret behind anti-Maduro plot

MIAMI (AP) — Colombia’s police chief is calling on a former U.S. Green Beret behind a plot to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to “answer for his crimes” in the South American country.

Gen. Oscar Atehortúa made the announcement a day after police arrested four Venezuelans tied to clandestine camps where he said American war veteran Jordan Goudreau helped arm and train a small cadre of volunteers to carry out the cross-border incursion.

“They were planning from Colombia territory, destabilizing actions with the goal of undermining our institutions,” Atehortúa said at a news conference alongside President Iván Duque. He said the FBI and U.S. National Security Council assisted in the five-month investigation.

The Associated Press on May 1 revealed the existence of the secret camps and Goudreau’s involvement in the bizarre plot. Two days later, despite being exposed, a small contingent went ahead anyway and were quickly stopped by Maduro’s security forces, which claims to have killed eight of the “mercenaries” and arrested dozens of others, including two of Goudreau’s special forces buddies, Luke Denman and Airan Berry. The two Americans pleaded guilty to charges of weapons trafficking, terrorism and conspiracy; they were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Goudreau in interviews the day of the raid from Florida took responsibility for the battlefield defeat but blamed Venezuela’s opposition, which he said recruited him to spur regime change and then got cold feet. Maduro, in a propaganda coup, blamed the Trump administration, which has denied playing any role in what has been dubbed the “Bay of Piglets,” for the 1961 fiasco invasion of Cuba by anti-communist exiles.

Standing next to his police chief, Duque said the plot was likely funded by Maduro’s “dictatorial regime” but provided no evidence to back the claim.

Of the four arrested Wednesday, two are brothers of Capt. Antonio Sequea, who commanded the failed beach raid and is now imprisoned in Venezuela. Also detained in Colombia is Rayder Russo, a civilian whom Maduro has implicated in a 2018 assassination attempt at a military parade using a explosives-laden drone.

None of the four men took part in the raid, and Russo, who abandoned the barren camps in January, had been cooperating with Colombian military intelligence, according to a person familiar with the probe on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive dealings.

Atehortúa saved his harshest words for the fourth suspect, Yacsy Álvarez, who he said worked with Goudreau and the plot’s ringleader, retired Venezuelan Gen. Cliver Alcalá, to smuggle weapons for the volunteers with illicit funding from abroad. He said a cache of assault rifles, sniper telescopes and night vision goggles seized by police on March 23 was destined for the camps, which were located along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Three days later, a New York federal court indicted Alcalá on unrelated narcotics charges. Before surrendering, he took responsibility for the weapons, saying they belonged to the “Venezuelan people” in their fight to reclaim their democracy from Maduro. Atehortúa said Colombia was taking steps to notify Alcalá in the U.S. that he is under investigation.

Alcalá never hid his intentions from Colombian authorities, who in turn kept their American counterparts informed, the AP investigation found. He openly touted his idea of training Venezuelan military deserters for an incursion in a June 2019 meeting with Colombia’s National Intelligence Directorate and appealed for their support, said a former Colombian official familiar with the conversation.

Alcalá also boasted about his relationship with Goudreau, describing him as a former CIA agent.

When the Colombians checked with their CIA counterparts at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, they were told that the three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan was never an agent. Alcalá was then told by his hosts to stop talking about an invasion or face expulsion, the former Colombian official said.

Goudreau hasn’t spoken publicly since May and both he and his lawyer didn’t respond to requests for comment. He also faces charges in Venezuela, while the FBI in the U.S. has been investigating whether he violated U.S. laws that require any U.S. company supplying weapons or military equipment, as well as military training and advice, to foreign persons to seek State Department approval.

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Joshua Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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