Authorities in Venezuela have recently detained two US citizens for what they are calling an attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
A US military veteran has admitted that the men work for him, and has claimed responsibility for a failed armed incursion into the country.
During a state television address delivered on Monday, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro said that the authorities had arrested 13 “terrorists” involved in the plot, which he claimed was coordinated with the US to enter the South American country through the Caribbean coast to oust him.
During his televised address, Maduro showed the US passports and other identification documents of the two detained US citizens, identified as Airan Berry and Luke Denman, who he claims were working with Jordan Goudreau, a US military veteran who runs a Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA. Goudreau has admitted the men work for him.
US president Donald Trump has denied any involvement of the US government. During a White House press briefing on May 5, Trump said, “I just got information. Nothing to do with our government, but I just got information on that.”
What was the ‘armed incursion’ about?
As per an Associated Press report, the plan was to sneak in over 300 armed volunteers – comprising Venezuelan security personnel who have defected and are being trained in camps in Colombia – into Venezuela from the northern tip of South America. They would carry out raids on the military bases set up in the country, with the hope of igniting a popular rebellion that would eventually lead to Maduro’s ouster.
In a video released on social media, Goudreau can be seen saying, “At 17:00 hours a daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas…”. He added that their units have been “activated” in the South, West and East of Venezuela.
The Silvercorps USA’s Twitter account, which no longer exists, tweeted on May 3 tagging Trump, “Strikeforce incursion into Venezuela. 60 Venezuelan, 2 American ex Green Beret…”.
What is the reason for tensions between Venezuela and the US?
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that the relations between the two countries began to deteriorate under Hugo Chávez’s government, “which undermined human rights, the separation of powers, and freedom of expression. U.S. concerns have deepened as the Maduro government has manipulated democratic institutions; cracked down on the opposition, media, and civil society; engaged in drug trafficking and corruption; and refused most humanitarian aid.”
Venezuela is currently under the authoritarian rule of President Maduro, who belongs to the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and took his position in 2013 after the death of former president Chávez. After completing his first term, Maduro began his second term in January 2019, which is seen by many Venezuelans and members of the international community as illegitimate.
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Juan Guaidó, who is president of Venezuela’s democratically elected opposition-controlled National Assembly, has been seeking to form a transition government since early 2019, until internationally recognised elections can be held.
The US, along with 57 other countries, recognises Guaidó as the interim president. After recognising Guaidó’s presidency in 2019, Trump said, “I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy,” and termed Maduro’s regime illegitimate.
However, Guaidó has been unable to wrest power from Maduro and has faced increasing danger after returning home from a tour he took between January-February 2020, which included a meeting with Trump.
Economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela
Maduro has blamed the US sanctions on the country’s state oil company and government for the economic problems that the country is currently riddled with, which includes hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and electricity blackouts. Maduro has also accused the US of trying to rule the country from afar.
Meanwhile, in order to increase pressure on Maduro officials, the US government also coordinates diplomatic efforts in support of Guaidó, some of which include visa revocations and targetted sanctions.
As per UN estimates, over 90 per cent of the country was living in poverty in April 2019 and an estimated 4.8 million Venezuelans have fled the country for other places in Latin America and for the Caribbean countries as of February 2020.
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