A Venezuelan court has sentenced two former United States Army Special Forces soldiers – Green Berets – to 20 years in prison for their part in a failed beach attack aimed at overthrowing President Nicolas Maduro.
Former soldiers Luke Denman and Airan Berry admitted to taking part in the May 4 operation orchestrated by a third ex-US soldier who remains in the US, Venezuelan’s chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced on Twitter late on Friday.
“They admitted their responsibility for the facts,” Saab wrote, adding the case will continue for dozens of other defendants. He did not offer details.
“Operation Gideon” was launched from makeshift training camps in neighbouring Colombia and left at least eight rebel soldiers dead while a total of 66 were jailed. Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, who operated a private, Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA, claimed responsibility for the failed coup d’etat.
Venezuelan prosecutors announced that Denman and Berry, both decorated former US service members, were found guilty of conspiracy, trafficking in illegal arms, and “terrorism”.
The two Americans, arrested in the coastal fishing community of Chuao, have since been widely displayed by officials on Venezuelan national TV as proof of their long-held claims that the US is set on overthrowing Maduro’s socialist government.
The incident also unleashed claims that US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido had authorised Goudreau through a signed agreement to carry out the attack, executed by two of Guaido’s former political advisers.
Guaido and US officials have denied any role in the plot. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would use all possible means to win the freedom of Denman and Berry.
A day before authorities announced the two ex-Green Berets were sentenced, Venezuelan authorities opened the trial of six American executives of the Houston-based Citgo company. The six men were arrested two years ago in Venezuela on corruption charges.
The case had lingered for months until former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson met personally in July with Maduro in Caracas to urge they be released so they could return home to the US.
Both play out amid hostility between Washington and Caracas. The Trump administration last year threw its support behind opposition leader Guaido, who declared he was Venezuela’s legitimate president, vowing to overthrow Maduro.
Guaido blames Maduro for the once-wealthy nation’s economic and social collapse, while the socialist leader says Washington is manipulating Guaido to steal the nation’s vast oil wealth.