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How not to invade a country: the Venezuela edition

. May 08, 2020
venezuela maduro passports President Nicolás Maduro showing the passports of the men he says were hired to oust him. Photo: Miraflores

Whenever President Nicolás Maduro addresses Venezuela, bombastic and controversial statements are almost a certainty. However, this past weekend, Mr. Maduro sat in front of television cameras to deliver some truly shocking news, that Venezuelan forces had intercepted an armed plot to ‘capture’ him and take down his government

On Sunday, elite Venezuelan armed forces neutralized an armed incursion at Macuto Bay — less than 20 kilometers from the capital of Caracas — killing six mercenaries and arresting 13. Launched by sea from neighboring Colombia, the attackers were made up of Venezuelan dissidents and security contractors from U.S. company Silvercorp.

</p> <p>Immediately, Venezuela&#8217;s Interior Minister Nestor Reverol classified the incursion as &#8220;a Colombian terrorist group intending to destabilize Venezuela.” Other Maduro supporters called the attack an attempted coup by U.S. President Donald Trump, <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/02/26/trump-threats-venezuela-latin-america/">drawing parallels</a> to the U.S.&#8217;s botched Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in 1961.</p> <p>However, in &#8220;Operation Gideon” — as the Venezuelan government is calling the armed incursion — it would appear that the primary enemy came from within. Venezuela&#8217;s Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab <a href="https://www.ensartaos.com.ve/tarek-william-saab-fiscal-general-de-venezuela-sobre-incursion-de-paramilitares-en-la-guaira-video/">pointed the finger</a> at Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition and self-declared interim president. Having a recent track record of failed coups, Mr. Guaido had allegedly hired the U.S. mercenaries using USD 212 million “stolen from the state-owned oil company PDVSA and other frozen Venezuelan accounts.”</p> <p>Things became clearer when Venezuelan Army captain Javier Nieto Quintero appeared in a <a href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-2165668/Video-Ex-Green-Beret-Jordan-Goudreau-addresses-arrested-mercenaries.html">video alongside former U.S. Green Beret Jordan Goudreau</a>, the director of the aforementioned private military company Silvercorp, in Florida. The men say that a &#8220;bold and audacious operation has been initiated from the Colombian border to the heart of central Caracas,” listing all the locations through where the armed group would try to enter.&nbsp;</p> <p>Security contractor Luke Alexander Denman, one of the Silvercorp members captured by the Venezuelan government, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcUC6k3vjQw">pointed out in a video</a> that Juan Guaidó was behind the plan and even showed documents with the alleged signatures of opposition leader, recognized by Donald Trump as the rightful leader of Venezuela.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Venezuela-us-passports.jpeg" alt="Venezuela us passports" class="wp-image-38550" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Venezuela-us-passports.jpeg 640w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Venezuela-us-passports-300x187.jpeg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Venezuela-us-passports-610x380.jpeg 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Venezuela-us-passports-560x349.jpeg 560w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px" /><figcaption>The Venezuelan government showed the U.S. passports of two men allegedly captured during a failed sea attack by mercenaries. Photo: Miraflores</figcaption></figure> <p>In an interview with <em>CNN</em> on Friday, Mr. Guaidó’s political advisor J.J. Rendón confessed that he signed the aforementioned documents, hiring Silvercorp to carry out the plot against the Venezuelan government.</p> <p>However, Juan Guaidó&#8217;s official line is that the incursion was a false flag operation. On his <a href="https://twitter.com/Presidencia_VE/status/1258088795792191488">Twitter</a>, Mr. Guaidó said President Maduro was “irresponsible,” claiming the government knew about the operation, “infiltrated the group, and waited for them to be massacred.”</p> <p>With facts, reports, and evidence seeming to corroborate the government&#8217;s story, Mr. Guaidó is in even more hot water than usual. Unsuccessful in his attempts to overthrow Nicolás Maduro, he continues to bounce from country to country to try and endorse his own leadership. In 2019, on one of his trips to Colombia, Mr. Guaidó was pictured alongside members of a paramilitary group, which caused even more tension and works against his arguments in the Macuto Bay invasion story.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Telling the story is the biggest challenge </h2> <p>With this war of narratives on such a sensitive incident, Venezuelan reporters are left in a delicate situation. The latest press freedoms report by NGO Reporters Without Borders ranks <a href="https://rsf.org/pt/classificacao">Venezuela as 147th </a>out of 180 countries. Ever since former President Hugo Chávez came to power in 1998, journalists have complained of difficulties in publishing stories disfavorable to the government, with the situation becoming <a href="https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2019/01/31/al-menos-11-periodistas-fueron-arrestados-y-liberados-en-venezuela-esta-semana/">significantly worse</a> when Nicolás Maduro took office in 2013.</p> <p>Fighting against that is an everyday job, says Luz Mely Reyes, general director of Venezuelan outlet Efecto Cocuyo, one of the most reliable media sources in the country.&nbsp;</p> <p>“In Venezuela, we have a country divided by propaganda, which seeks to manipulate the facts to generate narratives that tend to confuse people, which is common in the context of polarized societies. For approximately 20 years, the Venezuelan media industry has been dismantling. Some journalists had been under pressure and then decided to leave the country, but others have assumed positions,” Ms. Reyes told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>Covering breaking events such as the Macuto Bay invasion brings its own challenges. The journalist said that, just like every new case in Venezuela, the latest attempt against President Maduro was discredited by his opponents even before any facts came to light.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The first thing we did was ask what we have of fact in that story, which I think is what any journalist should do first,” she says.</p> <p>“What worries me is that people sometimes want to confiscate journalists&#8217; rights to ask a question. In addition to censorship and self-censorship, a spiral of silence is generated in the country, where the one who asks uncomfortable questions is seen as suspicious.”

 
Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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