Venezuela will try two Americans allegedly captured during a failed raid by mercenaries, President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday as the US vowed to “use every tool available” to bring them home.
Venezuela announced on Monday that it had arrested the pair on suspicion of trying to topple Maduro in an operation supported by the US-backed opposition.
“They are convicts, confessed, caught red-handed and are being judged by the republic’s attorney general, by Venezuela’s civil courts, and the process will be full of guarantees and fair,” said Maduro.
The leader of the crisis-wracked South American country insisted the Americans, identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, were being “well treated, with respect.”
Maduro showed the passports of Denman, 34, and Berry, 41, on state television. The US military has confirmed they were former members of the US security forces, US media reported.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the government would “use every tool that we have available to try to get them back.”
US President Donald Trump had denied any involvement by his administration with the mission, and Washington accused Maduro of launching a “disinformation campaign.”
Russia, a close ally of Maduro’s, hit out at Trump on Wednesday and described his denials as “unconvincing.”
Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said Monday that opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed by the US and more than 50 countries, had signed a $212 million contract with “hired mercenaries” using funds seized by the United States from the state oil company PDVSA.
Denman and Berry are amongst 17 people arrested for allegedly being part of an invasion force that planned to assassinate Maduro but was intercepted early Sunday just off the coast, about 40 minutes from the capital Caracas.
Another eight alleged attackers were killed.
“They have confessed their guilt, they broke international law, they broke Venezuelan law,” Maduro said.
“They’re in the hands of justice now and we guarantee there will be justice in this case with these two Americans and with the rest of the mercenaries, and that the truth will come out.”
– Bay of Pigs ‘remake’ –
The president repeated his accusation that Trump was directly behind the attack, claiming he contracted with a former US army medic, Jordan Goudreau, to train the mercenary force.
“President Donald Trump is the direct leader of the whole incursion,” said Maduro, who showed a video in which Denman confesses he was hired by Goudreau for the mission, which aimed to take control of the international airport in Caracas.
Maduro described it as a “remake” of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when Cuban exiles covertly financed and directed by the US government attempted to overthrow then Cuba leader Fidel Castro.
Pompeo mocked Maduro’s claims, saying that if the US “had been involved, it would have gone differently.”
Canadian-born Goudreau, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, has admitted the existence of the operation in a video, and claims the private security firm he runs, Silvercorp USA, was contracted by Venezuela’s opposition.
He told The Washington Post that he hired Denman and Berry as “supervisors” and had known them for years.
In the video, Goudreau shows what he claims is a contract signed by Guaido, whose press team subsequently denied having any agreements with private security firms.
Maduro — who has also accused the president of neighboring Colombia, Ivan Duque, of involvement — said he would ask the United States to extradite Goudreau.
The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that “all options are on the table” when discussing possible measures to help Guaido force Maduro from office.
Washington has also ramped up sanctions against Maduro, top members of his government, and PDVSA.
Venezuela, which is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues, is reeling from six years of recession, with millions of people facing a shortage of basic necessities.
Poverty has soared while around five million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
© 2020 AFP