March 26th: the Fall of Clíver Alcalá
Retired Army general Clíver Alcalá was very close to Chávez. He was also one of the most celebrated military leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution when it faced its first big obstacles in the conflicts of 2002 and 2003. As the chavista life cycle would have it, years later he fell from grace, was accused of corruption and drug trafficking, and left the country in 2018. He moved to northern Colombia and became a fierce critic of Maduro. On March 26th, when he found himself in the Department of Justice wanted list (with the same $10 million reward over his head as Diosdado Cabello), Alcalá reacted by uploading a video to social media where he admitted having been arming and training a rebel group in Colombia to invade Venezuela and topple the regime. He also said that the Venezuelan opposition was initially involved but left him to his own devices, and specifically accused Juan Guaidó of having broken his promises. Immediately after that, Alcalá turned himself into Colombian authorities and was deported to the U.S.
March 30th: the Resolute Incident
The Venezuelan Navy encounters a passenger cruise ship, the RCGS Resolute, near La Tortuga island, opens fire, and rams it. The cruise ship sailing under the Portuguese flag ends up rescuing the Venezuelan crew of the sinking Navy boat, which is damaged after colliding with the Resolute’s reinforced hull—the cruise ship is adapted to Arctic expeditions. This curious event shows how tense the Venezuelan Navy has been around the idea of a maritime armed incursion.
April 1st: Heating the Waters
The Trump administration opened its daily coronavirus briefing announcing the deployment of U.S. Navy ships on a big anti-drug operation in the Caribbean and specifically mentioned the Maduro regime as one of the actors benefiting from the drug trade.
May 1st: the AP Exposé
Associated Press journalist Joshua Goodman tells the story of Alcalá’s plan: around 300 men preparing in adverse conditions in the arid Colombian north, advised by an obscure character called Jordan Goudreau, an American veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, who owns a security company that claims, without proof, it’s been working to protect President Trump.
The piece explains how the project was conceived and why it failed and points out four main conclusions: the U.S. government knew about it but decided not to support it; the Venezuelan opposition spoke to Alcalá but also decided to part ways; the Maduro regime had infiltrated the operation long ago and was aware of everything; Goudreau is still on the run and trying to succeed. With this story, some of us started to understand that Alcalá’s plan was somewhat real and came to know one of the protagonists of this bizarre saga: the former Green Beret, apparently obsessed with freeing Venezuela.
With this story, some of us started to understand that Alcalá’s plan was somewhat real and came to know one of the protagonists of this bizarre saga.
There was, however, a strange detail related to this character that became relevant days after: although this was the first time many of us heard the name Jordan Goudreau, Diosdado Cabello mentioned him in his TV show… on March 28th.
May 3rd: Bay of Pigs, Venezuela Edition
While the country was worried about the lack of gas, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol announced that regime forces faced a group of armed men who tried to disembark in the Macuto Bay, a densely populated area in the coast near Caracas (a few kilometers away from a Navy base and the country’s main port, La Guaira). It’s like trying to invade the U.S. by disembarking with a few ill-prepared commandos in Atlantic City or Venice Beach, but also with the roads full of checkpoints because of the lockdowns during a pandemic.
The official propaganda apparatus, and many local independent media, started to show the images of the equipment allegedly brought in two boats for the “terrorists”. Diosdado Cabello said eight of them were killed and two were detained. Presidents Trump and Duque were immediately accused by the regime of orchestrating a coup d’état. Cabello said Army captain Robert Colina (AKA Pantera) was killed in action and that he was working for Clíver Alcalá. He added that one of the people detained is a DEA agent. Later, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López popped up and announced a new phase of the Bolivarian Shield 2020 military exercises, insisting the operation was ordered by the U.S. and planned in Colombia.
That same day, a Twitter account that claims to be the failed movement mouthpiece showed a video where a GNB captain and Jordan Goudreau say that although the Macuto operation failed, they have more men in the country, installing camps and preparing attacks on “strategic targets”. That night, Goudreau was interviewed by Miami-based Venezuelan journalist Patricia Poleo and assured Guaidó had signed a contract with him and didn’t fulfill his promise of paying for the operation, the reason why the invasion failed.
While the regime assembled and spread all over its narrative of another failed coup against the invincible revolution (designed in the U.S. and Colombia, led by drug traffickers and mercenaries, and involving Guaidó and the opposition), former police commissioner and political prisoner Iván Simonovis—now living in the U.S. and appointed special commissioner for security and intelligence by the National Assembly—suggested on Twitter that all this was a fake, except the executed officers. The Guaidó camp issued a communiqué that said they were considering two versions of what happened in Macuto, in line with Simonovis.
May 4th: Morons en la Costa
The show was even more intense the following day, with more news, photos, and footage, and the same degree of verisimilitude. Eight more men were captured trying to invade the country through Chuao, a beautiful, cocoa-producing village on the coast of Aragua, accessible only by boat. The “mercenaries” were well armed but were reduced by fishermen and local police. Two American veterans and the son of political prisoner Raul Baduel (one of the founders of the Bolivarian Revolution) were among them. A video showed masked officers triumphantly dragging a half-naked prisoner from a helicopter: GNB captain Antonio Sequea, who took part in the failed rebellion of April 30th, 2019.
We’re witnessing another occasion when chavismo wins over clumsy, weak opponents with blunt force and propagandistic agility.
Later that day, two other men were detained in Puerto Cruz, another isolated fishing village in Aragua. The regime showed images of the equipment they brought with them, several IDs (so the plotters would be well-identified while in Venezuela), American and Venezuelan badges, and even an Amazon Kindle (?). Army chief General Remigio Ceballos announced 25,000 soldiers would search for more mercenaries in the entire country; and the Attorney General appointed by the ANC insisted on Guaidó’s involvement, using as proof the contract Goudreau showed in his interview with Patricia Poleo.
Naturally, Guaidó denied all involvement, as well as the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, What Else Has Been Happening?
- A mutiny in a Guanare jail left at least 40 dead last Friday.
- There’s been a gang war going on in Petare for almost six days now. Government security forces have little resources or disposition to deal with it.
- The Maduro regime may be moving towards a long-overdue increase in gasoline prices, they haven’t been able to control the massive fuel shortage.
- Regarding COVID-19, there’s little information to know where in the curve Venezuela is right now. Between the gasoline shortage and this uncertainty, we may be looking at a long period of confinement measures.
What We Think Is Going On
The only certain takeaways we have from these events are, perhaps, those that we can see with our own eyes: the chavista regime is having a media feast in the middle of a worldwide crisis. They’ve been able to connect the dots of all their crazy conspiracy theories since the early days of the Comacates, the craziest of them all being a maritime invasion that would disembark in La Guaira. Of course, the images don’t make it look as glorious and epic as Chávez envisioned it, but it fits that narrative like a glove, the patriotic Armed Forces defending the motherland of traitors and foreigners coming from the sea, like the pirates of old and the mercenaries of modern Netflix movies.
It’s not too crazy to think that the truth lies somewhere in between. That it’s, in fact, a tropical game of spies mixed with inexperienced and clumsy political operators, unreliable informants, second rate soldiers of fortune, and a “Star Wars summit of anti-Maduro goofballs,” Goodman dixit. A large and stupid cast of characters that chavismo baited to give something they’ve been promising to their audience since the beginning. Plus, they got free publicity. Who says there are no free lunches?
In the end, we’re witnessing another occasion when chavismo wins over clumsy, weak opponents with blunt force and propagandistic agility, insisting on the myth of its invincibility and taking advantage of the situation to hunt real or potential adversaries, demolish what’s left of the image of the political opposition, ridiculing the idea of American soldiers setting foot on Venezuela, and ultimately tightening its grasp over the country.
We’re working with sources to understand this mess a little better. Wait for it on our next Political Risk Report, this Friday.
You can read this explainer in Spanish on Cinco8.