In Depth

Reaction: Donald Trump denies links to failed military coup in Venezuela

Two Americans reportedly arrested following ‘inept’ bid to overthrow Nicolas Maduro

Donald Trump has rejected any link to an alleged failed military operation in Venezuela that landed two US citizens in jail in the South American country.

Quizzed by White House reporters on Tuesday about the foiled “coup”, the US president said: “We just heard about it. But it has nothing to do with our government.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claims the two “American mercenaries” were part of an attempt by his political opponents to incite a rebellion or kill him, backed by neighbouring Colombia and the US.

According to Venezuelan authorities, 13 “terrorists” have been arrested following Sunday’s attempted incursion, during which eight people were killed.

Maduro has warned for years of foreign plots against his rule, “waving at the spectre of treacherous coups and imperialist invasions”, says The Washington Post.

Such “alarmism” has often served as a “smokescreen for his government’s failures”, but this time “Maduro may have a point”, adds the newspaper, pointing to footage being circulated on social media by the Venezuelan authorities that appears to show captured insurrectionists - including two former US special operations soldiers.

Allegations and denials aside, this apparent coup attempt is most notable for its idiocy, says New York Magazine.

“First there was ‘stupid Watergate’, such an evocative phrase that it was applied both to the Trump camp’s entanglements with Russia and the president’s attempts to leverage aid in Ukraine that eventually led to impeachment,” says the US publication. Now, the Trump era has brought us stupid Bay of Pigs.”

In a series of blunders, the suspected insurrectionists reportedly tweeted about their raid while it was in progress; tried to defeat a standing army of 340,000 with a force of just 62; and came dramatically underarmed, with the weapons subsequently confiscated by Venezuelan forces said to include an air rifle.

“Seasick and vomiting... the ragtag band of fighters’ plan to arrest Venezuela’s authoritarian government and free political prisoners collapsed before they hit shore,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, the whole episode smacks of “Bay of Pigs” meets “Keystone Cops”, tweets Brett McGurk, a former diplomat for both the Trump and Barack Obama administrations.

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Trump’s efforts to distance himself from the operation may also come unstuck.

The Washington Post reports that “a key figure behind the plot is Jordan Goudreau, a former US Green Beret who runs Silvercorp USA, a Florida-based private security firm”. 

Silvercorp provided security for the president’s rallies in 2018, as shown in a now-deleted Instagram picture that was screengrabbed by Vice News. The image appears to have been taken backstage at Trump’s October 2018 rally in Charlotte, and was captioned “Protecting our Greatest Assets”.

For Maduro, the whole incident “is a welcome distraction”, says the Post, which notes that “tanking oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic have put him under even greater pressure”.

That view is shared by former senior US diplomat Eric Farnsworth, now vice president of the Council of the Americas. 

Unpicking Maduro’s “convenient narrative”, Farnsworth asks: “What better way to rally a country that’s flat on its back than to expose an invasion from the empire?”

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