Saturday 24 October, 2020

Colombia arrests three Venezuelans tied to anti-Maduro plot

FILE - In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. The Trump administration pushed back Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2020 on Maduro, saying he deserves no praise for releasing a few political prisoners ahead of a congressional election when many more remain unjustly jailed. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

FILE - In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. The Trump administration pushed back Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2020 on Maduro, saying he deserves no praise for releasing a few political prisoners ahead of a congressional election when many more remain unjustly jailed. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix, File)

Police in Colombia have arrested three Venezuelans who were part of a failed plot organised by a former US Green Beret to sneak across the border and oust President Nicolás Maduro, The Associated Press has learned

The three were arrested in simultaneous raids by heavily-armed security forces early Wednesday in the capital of Bogota, a person in contact with the men at the time of their arrest told AP.

The person, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the continuing investigation, said the three were picked up on charges of providing military training for illicit and "terrorist" activities, which carries a prison penalty of 20 to 30 years.

Two of the men, Major Juvenal Sequea and Captain Juven Sequea, are the older brothers of the confessed commander of the failed May 3 incursion, Captain Antonio Sequea, who is jailed in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

The third, Rayder Ruso, is a civilian who has long sought Maduro's armed overthrow.

All three lived for months in rustic camps along Colombia's Caribbean coast where Jordan Goudreau, an American war veteran, was helping organize a volunteer army for a rapid cross-border strike against Maduro.

But the men deserted the ragtag effort, known as Operation Gideon, prior to the beach assault — one of them month before — viewing it as a suicide mission that lacked the necessary support from the US

What was dubbed the "Bay of Piglets" — after the failed 1961 invasion of Cuba by anti-communist exiles — ended in a propaganda victory for Maduro with the capture of dozens of would-be combatants, including two of Goudreau's former special forces buddies, Luke Denman and Airan Berry, who quickly pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"Donald Trump OK'd my murder, I am not exaggerating, and they are trying to send a group of snipers or hire snipers in Venezuela to kill me," Maduro said Tuesday, recalling the bizarre attack.

The US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó was also linked to the plot when it was revealed that two of his aides in Miami signed last fall a 42-page contract with Goudreau's Florida company, Silvercorp USA, to carry out regime change.

The aides said they backed out of the deal before Christmas due to a mix of differences with Goudreau and a change in strategy. They said no money changed hands except $50,000 to cover Goudreau's initial expenses.

A full telling of the plot and what, if anything, US officials knew in advance has been elusive despite questions from Democrats in Congress angry over the raid.

There were media reports that a fourth person, Yacsy Álvarez, who served as Goudreau's translator and assistant in Colombia, had also been arrested Wednesday in Colombia for aiding the plot. AP was unable to confirm whether she had been arrested.

In January, Álvarez flew with the three Americans from Miami to Colombia on a plane owned by her one-time boss, Franklin Durán, a wealthy businessman with a history of close ties to Maduro's predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chávez.

Durán was arrested  in May on charges connected to the plot, including treason, rebellion, conspiracy with a foreign government and arms trafficking and terrorism.

Álvarez was also an associate of Goudreau's would-be partner in arms, retired Venezuelan army General Cliver Alcalá, who like Álvarez had been living in Colombian city of Barranquilla after breaking with Maduro and fleeing his homeland in 2018.

Alcalá surrendered to US authorities in March on unrelated drug charges, just a few days after Colombian police seized a cache of assault rifles, tactical helmets and night vision goggles that he said belonged to the rebel cadre that he and Goudreau were readying to bring down Maduro.

It was not clear if US officials played any role in Wednesday's arrests. But for months the FBI has been interviewing associates of Goudreau as part of their own investigation into whether he violated US laws that require any US company supplying weapons or military equipment, as well as military training and advice, to foreign persons to seek State Department approval.

Goudreau did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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