The families of ex-Green Berets caught up in a failed Venezuela coup last year insist that they believed that the doomed invasion was backed by the US government.
Luke Denman, 34, and Airan Berry, 41, were arrested in May 2020 alongside 11 Venezuelans following the foiled attempt to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.
But both their families insist they thought they had the full backing of the US government
The families believe that the men were duped into training the group of Venezuelans for Operation Gideon – a poor impression of the Bay of Pigs that left six Venezuelans dead and more than a dozen arrested including Denman and Berry.
‘It’s all so murky and there’s just so many players in this,’ Airan Berry’s wife Melanie told Vice World News.
‘I doubt we’ll ever get a sufficient answer to what was going on or … who did what.’
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Denman, 34, (left) and Berry, 41, (right) have been sentenced to 20 years in prison in August
Suspects were arrested in a coastal village on the northern Venezuelan coast. At the time. the government announced the individuals were part of a foiled plan to remove President Maduro
The coup was led by Jordan Goudreau, 43, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and head of a private-security company, Silvercorp USA.
Goudreau was a friend of Berry’s wife Melanie and when he told her he was leaving to work for him he was light on the details – but that was nothing new for the Berry who would keep quiet about missions when in the military.
Denman was a little less cagey, texting his brother Mark on Signal that he was ‘Training Venezuelans.’
When his brother demanded to know who and what for, Denman was more evasive.
‘A little bit of everything,’ wrote Luke. ‘Private company.’
‘Mission is approved by our government and the government of Venezuela,’ he wrote. ‘We have great resources and a strong force.’
When news came through of their arrests, their families were stunned.
It was only when Mark spotted his brother’s Nordic tattoo in the pictures of the arrest, did he really believe it was him.
‘I feel like they were just used as pawns,’ said Melanie. ‘It almost seems like they were kind of set up in a way.’
Denman’s family believes Luke admitted to a forced confession provided by the Venezuelan government about the failed coup.
Meanwhile, Goudreau, who spent 15 years in the Army, earning three bronze stars and rising to the rank of sergeant first class, insists Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had personal knowledge of Operation Gideon.
Pence’s office and Mike Pompeo have denied ever meeting Goudreau or knowledge of Operation Gideon.
Gourdreau alleges the plot began when President Trump’s longtime personal bodyguard, Keith Schiller and his consultancy company contacted Silvercorp.
Neither Goudreau or Silvercorp USA had ever attempted to overthrow a government before.
Maduro revealed that they had knowledge of the raid plans after infiltrating the group in Colombia and were waiting to capture them.
An image from Silvercorp USA, the Florida-based company owned by former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, which is at the center of the failed coup launched last May in Venezuela
Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan, believes the plot had a good chance of being successful but blames everyone from double agents to the DEA and the FBI, for scuppering his plans
Former Vice President Mike Pence’s office has denied ever meeting Jordan Goudreau or knowledge of Operation Gideon.
Goudreau hatched the plot with a rebellious former Venezuelan Army General, Cliver Alcalá, to secretly train dozens of Venezuelan military deserters in secret camps in Colombia to carry out a swift operation against Maduro.
In their interrogation videos, Berry and Denman revealed they had been approached by Goudreau in early December about the plot and they were hired by Silvercorp to meet with around 60 Venezuelans in training camps in Colombia to prepare them for the mission.
Melanie told Vice her first thought was ‘Is this for real? And it’s just, it’s like disbelief at first, and shock. And it’s like somebody pulled the rug out from under your feet’
The failed operation led to the capture of Berry and Denham (circled left to right)
Airan told Melanie he was working for Goudreau, he was vague about what he would be doing.
About a month later, he texted her to tell her he was in Colombia for his work.
The former soldiers flew to Colombia on January 16, 2020. After training, they accompanied the troops by boat to Venezuelan to oversee the plan and ensure an airport was secured through which Maduro could be flown to the United States.
Goudreau announced the invasion while his men were apparently in the process of carrying out the mission into Venezuela on Twitter.
The plan was a risky one and would see the boats sailing for around 16 hours before landing north of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.
The plan was to infiltrate the country through the coastal town of Macuto with around 100 Venezuelan exiles and incite a popular rebellion against the government, similar tactics to those employed in the doomed Bay of Pigs plot in Cuba in 1961.
The idea was for one group to take over a TV station while another would commandeer an airport. A third group would capture President Maduro and get him on a plane to the United States where a $15 million reward would await.
In the U.S. he would face justice over allegations of systematic human rights violations, including killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity.
But everything seemed to fall apart, and fast. The mercenaries became sea sick during the voyage and spent most of the 16 hours throwing up over the side of the boat.
Phone calls between Goudreau and the boats failed to go through. One of the boat’s engines broke down and fuel ran low.
Their cover was blown. At least once of the boats was spotted by Venezuelan fishermen who quickly informed the authorities.
The pilot boat was soon boarded by the Venezuelan military who immediately killed the six men on board.
The larger boat was escorted by Maduro into the port town of Macuto.
Propaganda videos were released by Venezuela in which the revolutionaries and the two Americans, former Staff Sgt. Luke Denman and Sgt. Airan Berry, can be seen in the boat with their hands in the air.
Melanie says she received her one brief phone call from Goudreau. He promised her he would do everything in his power to ensure her husband and Denman returned safely.
Venezuelan security forces escort one of captured individuals who were participants of a plot to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro
‘They both respected him enough and that they trusted him and they wanted to do this with him and to help the people over there.
She never heard from Goudreau again.
Goudreau has since taken responsibility for what transpired during Operation Gideon, but has failed to elaborate upon what actually occurred as he told RollingStone in December 2020.
‘Look, I’m responsible for everything I do or fail to do. I’m not, ‘Oh, it wasn’t me.’ That ain’t me, man. I f***** up. I own it. It’s on me. But at the same time, there’s reasons why,’ he said.
Goudreau has since claimed he was hired last year by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, something the U.S.-backed Venezuelan lawmaker has denied.
The goal of Operation Gideon was to replace Maduro (left) by installing Juan Guaidó (right), whose name appears on a contract purportedly signed with the coup plotters.
Luke Denman (left) and Airan Berry (right): Two of the mercenaries arrested and paraded after their failed attempt to kill Venezuela’s Maduro last May
Luke’s brother Mark believes the two men that Luke and Airan are there in Colombia training Venezuelan opposition forces.
‘At some point, things are going wrong. They’re not going well, but they are moving forward with whatever the operation is as well. But Luke and Airan’s job at some point is now done, and they are simply getting out,’ he told VICE World News.
The Trump administration previously used sanctions and support for political opponents in an attempt to pressure Maduro to step down.
The administration claimed at the time they had no knowledge whatsoever of the mission.
Back in the U.S. federal law-enforcement agencies have arrested others allegedly involved in the plot, but there have been no other indictments