Venezuela will try two Americans allegedly captured during a failed raid by mercenaries, President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday as the U.S. vowed to “use every tool available” to bring them home.
Venezuela announced on Monday that it had arrested the pair on suspicion of trying to topple Mr. Maduro in an operation supported by the U.S.-backed opposition.
“They are convicts, confessed, caught red-handed and are being judged by the republic’s Attorney-General, by Venezuela’s civil courts, and the process will be full of guarantees and fair,” said Mr. Maduro. The leader of the crisis-wracked South American country insisted the Americans, identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, were being “well treated, with respect”.
Mr. Maduro showed the passports of Mr. Denman, 34, and Mr. Berry, 41, on state TV. The U.S. military has confirmed they were ex-members of the U.S. security forces, US media reported.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the government would “use every tool that we have available to try to get them back.” U.S. President Donald Trump had denied any involvement by his administration with the mission, and Washington accused Mr. Maduro of launching a “disinformation campaign”. Russia, a close ally of Mr. Maduro’s, hit out at Mr. Trump on Wednesday and described his denials as “unconvincing.”
Venezuela’s Attorney-General Tarek William Saab said opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed by the U.S. and more than 50 countries, had signed a $212 million contract with “hired mercenaries” using funds seized by the U.S. from the state oil company PDVSA.
Denman and Berry are amongst 17 people arrested for allegedly being part of an invasion force that planned to assassinate Mr. Maduro but was intercepted early Sunday just off the coast, about 40 minutes from the capital Caracas.
Another eight alleged attackers were killed.
“They have confessed their guilt, they broke international law, they broke Venezuelan law,” Mr. Maduro said.
“They’re in the hands of justice now and we guarantee there will be justice in this case with these two Americans and with the rest of the mercenaries, and that the truth will come out.”
The president repeated his accusation that Mr. Trump was directly behind the attack, claiming he contracted a former U.S. army medic, Jordan Goudreau, to train the mercenary force.
“President Donald Trump is the direct leader of the whole incursion,” said Mr. Maduro, who showed a video in which Denman confesses he was hired by Goudreau for the mission, which aimed to take control of the international airport in Caracas.
Mr. Maduro described it as a “remake” of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when Cuban exiles covertly financed and directed by the U.S. government attempted to overthrow then Cuba leader Fidel Castro.
Mr. Pompeo mocked Mr. Maduro’s claims, saying that if the U.S. “had been involved, it would have gone differently.”
Canadian-born Goudreau, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, has admitted the existence of the operation in a video, and claims the private security firm he runs, Silvercorp USA, was contracted by Venezuela’s opposition.
He told The Washington Post that he hired Denman and Berry as “supervisors” and had known them for years.
In the video, Mr. Goudreau shows what he claims is a contract signed by Mr. Guaido, whose press team subsequently denied having any agreements with private security firms.
Mr. Maduro — who has also accused the president of neighboring Colombia, Ivan Duque, of involvement — said he would ask the United States to extradite Mr. Goudreau.
The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that “all options are on the table” when discussing possible measures to help Mr. Guaido force Mr. Maduro from office.
Washington has also ramped up sanctions against Mr. Maduro, top members of his government, and PDVSA.
Venezuela, which is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues, is reeling from six years of recession, with millions of people facing a shortage of basic necessities.
Poverty has soared while around five million people have fled the country, according to the United Nations.
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