NOEL KING, HOST:
Two U.S. citizens were arrested in Venezuela yesterday. President Nicolas Maduro went on TV and said they led - or tried to lead - an invasion of his country, overthrow him and assassinate him. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Venezuela for us often. He's on the line now from Rio. Hey, Phil.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So Maduro frequently says the U.S. is plotting to depose him. But this time he's saying, I have proof. I have these two Americans. What exactly happened here?
REEVES: Well, according to Venezuelan authorities, they intercepted a group of what they're calling mercenaries and terrorists. They say these guys landed in boats on a beach not all that far from the capital, Caracas, and that this happened early Sunday. They claimed that eight of them were killed during those landings. And they also say they seized some weapons and vehicles.
Since then, thousands of Maduro's security forces have been carrying out a manhunt for others who might have been involved. And now they're saying two individuals, who they identify as Americans, were picked up yesterday. Maduro is claiming this plot was thwarted because it was infiltrated by his intelligence agents, and that he's alleging that these invaders were trained and funded by the U.S. and Colombia.
KING: And we know this, in part - or he's saying this, in part - because they are American citizens. They were carrying their passports. Who are these two men?
REEVES: Yeah. Venezuelan officials have displayed pictures of what they say are their U.S. passports.
REEVES: And one of the Americans also had with him his veteran's ID card issued by the VA. You know, that is odd. The Venezuelans have named these two men as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both reportedly former U.S. special forces. Their names have been confirmed by another former Green Beret, a guy called Jordan Goudreau, who now runs a security company in Florida. Goudreau says that he's one of the people behind this operation.
He appeared in a video Sunday announcing that a daring, amphibious raid was underway in Venezuela. He said the mission was to capture Maduro. He also says that there are more than 50 other fighters involved in this operation still in Venezuela, most of these are reportedly Venezuelan military defectors who fled to Colombia. There's one other thing. Goudreau's also claiming to have had contact with Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaido. Guaido, you'll recall, is the man that the U.S. recognizes - and nearly 60 other nations also - as Venezuela's legitimate leader.
A year ago, Guaido did try in vain to start an uprising in Venezuela. Goudreau has said that one - he's told one media outlet that he's had contact with Guaido. In fact, he told a Venezuelan journalist that he signed a $200 million contract with Guaido for unspecified general services. Guaido has issued a statement saying he has nothing whatever to do with Goudreau and isn't responsible for any of his actions.
KING: Has the United States, on an official level, copped to being any part of this?
REEVES: Well, they have been working to oust Maduro for well over a year. But they're saying that this has nothing to do with them. In fact, officials have suggested this is fabricated, part of a Maduro propaganda move. Maduro's certainly getting huge propaganda mileage out of this at a time when he's very eager to distract attention from the disaster that's playing out in Venezuela.
Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic is part of that. But of course, you also have the terrible economic collapse in that country, which is getting worse now because oil prices have hit rock bottom. So he's lost that as a source of revenue. We don't know exactly what really happened here. One U.S. source told me that this whole thing doesn't really add up. It doesn't make a lot of sense. But I'm sure we'll find out more details as they unfold.
KING: Really interesting one. NPR's Phil Reeves. Thanks, Phil.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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