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2 Americans Are Locked Up After A Failed Attempt To Overthrow Venezuelan President

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Two Americans are locked up in Venezuela after a failed attempt to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela's government released video of one of them today. Both of the prisoners are former U.S. Special Forces. Maduro says they will be tried in civilian court. There are many layers to this story, and Joshua Goodman of the Associated Press has been digging into it. He joins us from Miami.

Thanks for being here.

JOSHUA GOODMAN: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: Briefly walk us through what we know about the alleged plot. How did these guys hope to oust the heavily guarded president of Venezuela?

GOODMAN: Well, I don't think there was ever really a chance it was going to succeed. I mean, some people are kind of calling it the Bay of Piglets (ph) in reference to the Kennedy strike on Castro in the '60s.

SHAPIRO: Right.

GOODMAN: It was, basically, a few dozen men against an army of several hundred thousand in a country where there's a lot of fear, a lot of surveillance and a lot of Russian hardware. And we're not fully aware of the entire facts of it. What we know from our reporting is that last year, Jordan Goudreau, a private - former Special Forces combatant set up - visited some training camps in Colombia that were being clandestinely run by a former Venezuelan general. And there he sort of interacted and trained with a bunch of Venezuelan deserters who had this as their goal.

SHAPIRO: So your reporting suggests that Jordan Goudreau was sort of the ringleader, but he was not actually part of the team that tried to carry out this raid. What do we know about the two men who were detained? The two Americans Luke Denman and Airan Berry - who are they?

GOODMAN: They were associates of his company based out of Florida called Silvercorp. They're also Special Forces colleagues of his from his days in Stuttgart, where he was based. And they were part of the operation. I think it's important to say that Jordan Goudreau says he would've really liked to be there with his men. And what we learned in this story today is that they had a mishap with a boat. That was around the end of March. And Jordan had to travel back to the United States and was unable to be with his men at this stage of their operation.

SHAPIRO: You also reported today that the U.S. is investigating Goudreau for possible arms trafficking. The big question here is what role, if any, the U.S. government played. The U.S. has a history of interfering with Latin American governments and has opposed Maduro for years. Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: There was no U.S. government direct involvement in this operation. If we'd have been involved, it would have gone differently.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about any direct or indirect role that the U.S. government may have played?

GOODMAN: Yeah, I never found any evidence that the U.S. supported this. I think there were a lot of people who were aware of it in the Venezuelan opposition and the Colombian government. And they certainly made those concerns known to their counterparts in the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. But, you know, in terms of direct support, for sure, I don't have any evidence of that. But this is what Maduro is saying, and that's why some people are saying, for now the only coup that has taken place is a propaganda coup for Maduro.

SHAPIRO: You published a report on this alleged plot before Venezuela announced the raid. What do you think is going on here?

GOODMAN: This is one of the hardest stories I've ever worked on. The facts are elusive. The motives of the people who are talking to you are even harder to dissect. But, you know, it clearly was something that a lot of people knew about. This wasn't just, you know, the figment of some, you know, person's imagination. And, you know, I think it's going to raise a lot of tough questions both for the U.S. government - did they know about it? And why didn't they try to shut it down considering how reckless it was? And also to the Venezuelan opposition - it's an uncomfortable story because many people in the opposition knew about it and actually entertained the idea pretty seriously last year.

SHAPIRO: Joshua Goodman is Latin America correspondent for the Associated Press.

Thanks for joining us today.

GOODMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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