By JOSHUA GOODMAN, Related Press Author
MIAMI (AP) — From a windowless cell in a maximum-security jail in Colombia, Yacsy Álvarez awaits trial on expenses she helped set up an tried armed invasion to overthrow the federal government in neighboring Venezuela.
Álvarez was a translator and enterprise associate of Jordan Goudreau, the previous American Inexperienced Beret whose ill-fated plan to depose Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro with a ragtag military he allegedly helped practice within the jungles of Columbia resulted in catastrophe final yr.
Prosecutors in Colombia stated Álvarez helped smuggle weapons to the volunteer military. However she claims she’s being made the scapegoat for the sins of others, together with U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaidó, who distanced himself from the self-declared freedom fighters. Final month, her legal professional requested prosecutors so as to add Guaidó as a co-conspirator within the case.
She’s additionally lashing out at her accusers in Colombia, who she claims had been involved with the plot’s Venezuelan ringleader. Regardless of being conscious of the troopers’ actions, she stated, Colombian authorities did nothing to cease them — even after Maduro’s vp, a full seven months earlier than the raid, introduced the coordinates of the rebels’ protected homes from the ground of the United Nations Basic Meeting.
“I’ve acquired no navy coaching, no political expertise, no financial sources,” stated Álvarez within the transient jail-cell interview from jail in Medellin. “They grabbed me, probably the most ignorant, to scrub up the dishes damaged by others.”
Álvarez’s claims elevate new questions concerning the position of staunch U.S. ally Colombia within the so-called Operation Gideon — or the Bay of Piglets, because the bloody fiasco got here to be recognized. The failed try final Might to ignite an rebellion ended with six insurgents useless and two of Goudreau’s former Particular Forces buddies behind bars in Caracas.
Colombia, whose safety forces are among the many high U.S. companions on this planet, has steadfastly denied knowingly serving as a staging floor for the incursion, simply because the U.S. has insisted it was unaware of any illicit actions.
However Álvarez stated the person coordinating the clandestine effort, retired Venezuelan military Gen. Cliver Alcalá, had been involved with Colombia’s intelligence providers ever since he arrived within the nation in 2017 following a failed barracks conspiracy inside Venezuela.
The knowledge matches findings of an AP investigation final yr that the at all times loquacious Alcalá overtly touted his plans for an incursion and appealed for help in a June 2019 assembly with two brokers from Colombia’s Nationwide Intelligence Directorate, or DNI.
Alcalá on the assembly in a lodge in Medellin additionally boasted about his relationship with Goudreau, describing him as a former CIA agent, based on a former Colombian official acquainted with the dialog. However when the CIA in Bogota denied any hyperlink to Goudreau, Alcalá was informed by his handlers to stop all speak of an invasion or face expulsion, the previous official stated.
9 months after Operation Gideon turned a laughingstock on social media, a full account of the way it was organized and what led to its unraveling stays cloaked behind questionable confessions and propaganda ploys from Caracas in addition to silence and subterfuge from Maduro’s opponents.
Álvarez, 39, has been portrayed in Colombia media as one thing of a Venezuelan Mata Hari, alternately accused of conspiring to overthrow Maduro or working as a double agent to sabotage the operation from behind enemy strains. However in her telling, her solely crime is having come to the help of the forlorn troops when Guaidó and Colombia, after encouraging the deserters and providing them free housing and help, deserted the lads.
She was arrested together with three different Venezuelans final September following a five-month investigation into the arming and coaching of an exile militia on Colombian soil.
Colombian President Iván Duque stated on the time the 4 had been “presumably promoted and financed by Maduro’s dictatorial regime” though to this point authorities haven’t offered any exhausting proof establishing such hyperlinks.
Álvarez served as Goudreau’s translator throughout his visits to Colombia and the 2 opened an affiliate of his small Florida safety agency Silvercorp, in mid-2019. It listed its handle at an upscale lodge in Barranquilla, based on Colombian public information.
She additionally flew with Goudreau and the 2 different former Inexperienced Berets — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — to Barranquilla aboard a Cessna jet belonging to her boss, businessman Franklin Durán, who has an extended historical past of deal-making with the Venezuelan authorities. On the time, Álvarez was residing within the Caribbean coastal metropolis and dealing as a director in a unit of Durán’s auto lubricants firm.
Durán was arrested in Might by Venezuelan authorities, accused of financing the plot. By means of his attorneys, he has denied any involvement. However Maduro’s opponents have pointed to Durán’s murky previous — he spent 4 years in a U.S. jail for working as a international agent of Hugo Chávez to cowl up bulk money contributions to Argentina’s former president — as proof that the mission had been co-opted.
Wherever his loyalties lie, Álvarez stated it was Durán who put her in contact with Alcalá, who he knew for years.
Álvarez stated the Colombian authorities had been intimately conscious of what was occurring and gave the impression to be supportive if in a roundabout way concerned. At one level, Alcalá launched her to his longtime handler on the DNI, somebody figuring out himself as “Franklin Sánchez,” which she now believes was a pseudonym.
At no time did she suspect she was below investigation. As a substitute, she claims it was Sánchez who tried to guard her, urging her to alter residences because of attainable threats originating from the Maduro-controlled elite police unit generally known as the Particular Motion Forces. She gave the identical rationalization to her lawyer, Alejandro Carranza, in a recorded dialog from jail on Nov. 26, a duplicate of which the legal professional supplied to the AP.
The risk can also be referenced in a letter, additionally supplied by Carranza, despatched by the DNI a month earlier than her arrest to prosecutors urging them to take “pressing” motion to stop her from being harmed or fleeing illegally to Panama. The letter, which is labeled “secret,” was written on the request of the DNI’s director, retired Vice Admiral Rodolfo Amaya.
She additionally claims to have spoken by way of videoconference for 3 hours to brokers from the FBI, who’ve a parallel investigation into whether or not Goudreau broke U.S. legal guidelines requiring State Division approval for American firms supplying navy coaching or tools to international individuals. In the course of the assembly, she says she pleaded with the FBI to guard her mom, who stays in Venezuela, from retaliation by Maduro.
Colombia’s DNI in an announcement stated it had no prior data of plans for a navy incursion nor any details about Alcalá‘s relationship with Goudreau. It additionally denied ever having any contact with Álavrez, to warn her of threats or in any other case, however didn’t dispute the authenticity of the letter despatched to prosecutors about her actions.
However quite a few public statements from Maduro’s authorities, in addition to police studies in Colombia of suspicious exercise by Venezuelan navy deserters, point out the plot was hidden in plain sight.
On Sept. 27, 2019, Venezuela Vice President Delcy Rodríguez delivered a blistering speech towards Colombia on the U.N. Basic Meeting by which she revealed the placement of what she stated had been three protected homes the place troopers had been being educated to oust Maduro. Hours later, the Venezuelan authorities broadcast on social media the handle and a photograph taken from Google Earth of one of many homes — what it referred to as “Camp Two” — within the coastal metropolis of Riohacha. Days earlier, her brother, then Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez, had supplied the identical info.
The straightforward concrete dwelling on an unpaved dusty road was rented for round $700 a month on July 1, 2019, by two Venezuelans, based on a duplicate of the rental contract supplied to the AP by the proprietor. One of many males, Luis Gómez Penaranda, was arrested two months later in Venezuela for allegedly transporting C-4 explosives for a deliberate bombing of presidency buildings. In a videotaped confession that was closely promoted by Maduro’s authorities, Penaranda fingered Alcalá and certainly one of Álvarez’s co-defendants, Rayder Russo, because the architects of the thwarted assault. Penaranda was freed final yr as a part of a mass launch of presidency opponents.
Dilarina Mendoza, the house’s proprietor, stated the renters offered paperwork figuring out themselves as members of an accredited spiritual group, the Mahanaim Basis, a reference to a Biblical village which means “two camps” in Hebrew. She stated Álvarez, whom she recognized in images, was with them and the one who paid the primary month’s lease. On one event she noticed Álcalá on the home in addition to an American in a baseball cap whom she was unable to determine.
From the outset, the tenants fell behind in lease whilst ever-larger numbers of Venezuelans crowded into the home, sleeping on metallic bunk beds they bought. Repeatedly she was informed they had been ready for money to be despatched from their brethren within the U.S. Lastly, in late October, she filed a police report — a duplicate of which she additionally supplied — claiming about $2,000 in unpaid lease and bills.
“I needed to kick them out. I used to be so offended as a result of they wouldn’t go away,” stated Mendoza, who stated she by no means suspected they had been as much as something nefarious. “On high of that, they left the home a multitude and destroyed my marble ground.”
As soon as evicted, the group of round 20 males moved to equally downscale quarters 2 kilometers (about 1 mile) away. Police searched the brand new home on March 26, 2020 — greater than a month earlier than the botched Venezuela invasion. The home was uninhabited, however inside they discovered Venezuelan navy uniforms, maps of key states, and 9 safety cameras amongst mattresses strewn throughout the ground, based on a police report obtained by the AP. There have been additionally receipts of small Western Union transfers — one for $48.75 — from different recognized conspirators amongst ex-Venezuelan troopers residing in Miami. The police report is referenced within the arrest warrant towards Álvarez, a duplicate of which was supplied by her lawyer.
It’s unclear what prompted the raid. However it’s attainable authorities had been already suspicious even when they had been unwilling — or unable — to neutralize the plot and stop the massacre that might quickly happen. Three days earlier, on March 23, police seized a cache of 26 assault rifles and tactical tools it was later revealed had been dispatched by Álvarez and destined for the rebels within the desert-like La Guajira peninsula that Colombia shares with Venezuela.
By now, the mission had been completely infiltrated and Maduro’s authorities couldn’t assist however gloat. On March 28, socialist get together boss Diosdado Cabello, the eminence grise of Venezuela’s huge Cuban-trained intelligence community, for the primary time named Álvarez, Alcalá, and Goudreau and others on state TV for allegedly spearheading a “mercenary” plot to oust Maduro.
“What has the Colombian authorities performed? Nothing, as a result of they’re accomplices,” stated Cabello.
Ramiro Bejarano, a former Colombian intelligence chief, stated Álvarez’s statements are an extra embarrassment for Colombian authorities who of their enthusiasm to see Maduro eliminated ignored how simply Alcalá‘s improvised plan might backfire into what it in the end turned: a hard-to-explain political mess for the Venezuelan opposition and its international backers.
“They had been both complicit or fully negligent in not shutting it down,” stated Bejarano, now a columnist essential of the present authorities in Bogota. “However it’s inconceivable they didn’t know what was occurring proper below their noses.”
Alcalá, a former acolyte of the late Hugo Chávez who broke with Maduro when he turned president in 2013, didn’t partake within the incursion. On March 26 — three days after the cache of weapons was intercepted — federal prosecutors in New York unsealed expenses towards him, Maduro, Cabello and others for allegedly conspiring with Colombian rebels to ship massive portions of cocaine to the U.S. A $10 million reward was introduced for info resulting in Alcalá‘s arrest — a shock reversal for an outspoken Maduro critic who had been involved with Colombian intelligence for years.
However earlier than turning himself in, Alcalá took duty for the weapons that Álvarez allegedly helped transport, saying they belonged to the “Venezuelan folks.” He additionally lashed out towards Guaidó, accusing him of betraying a contract signed with “American advisers” to take away Maduro from energy.
The U.S. has denied any direct position within the tried Venezuelan raid. Elliott Abrams, who was the Trump administration’s envoy for Venezuela, stated final yr, in a written response to questions posed by Sen. Chris Murphy, that the one data he and others within the State Division had of Silvercorp’s actions in Colombia got here from inquiries by the AP.
Abrams stated he had no data of Goudreau’s alleged efforts to acquire weapons nor was he made conscious of any conferences between Guaidó representatives and safety contractors on U.S. soil associated to such an endeavor.
In the meantime, Guaidó has disputed the authenticity of his signature on an settlement offered by Goudreau detailing a snatch and seize operation towards Maduro. The 2 Miami-based aides who did acknowledge signing the doc stated they broke off all contact with Goudreau virtually six months earlier than the suicide mission was launched.
Goudreau has acknowledged plowing forward alone, however in October nonetheless sued certainly one of Guaidó’s aides, political strategist JJ Rendon, for $1.4 million, alleging breach of contract. His 133-page criticism reads like an intrigue-filled Netfix collection involving all the pieces from clandestine airstrips to aides to Vice President Mike Pence. In it, Goudreau asserts, with out proof besides a couple of inconclusive conferences he had with two Trump officers, that that the ”Álcalá plan” had been permitted by the U.S. authorities.
The FBI, nevertheless, has been investigating Goudreau for weapons trafficking, U.S. legislation enforcement supply informed the AP final yr. In Might, it seized $50,000 from him when it raided a Miami-area condominium the place he was residing, his legal professional informed the AP. No motive was given for the seizure though the FBI has since determined to return the funds, the legal professional stated.
“We consider the raid was carried out as a way to provoke a violent response,” Gustavo Garcia-Montes informed the AP, including that his consumer had already been involved and was cooperating with investigators. Neither Goudreau nor anyone else has been charged within the matter.
Again in Colombia, Álvarez and her co-defendants have to this point been the one ones held accountable for Operation Gideon.
Whereas Álvarez has vowed to battle the costs, her three co-defendants are contemplating a plea deal. Álvarez’s legal professional stated the lads are shielding Guaidó, citing as proof the truth that he was beforehand a pacesetter in an anti-Maduro get together and since migrating to Colombia has been referred circumstances by the Guaidó-appointed embassy in Bogota. The legal professional, Eduardo Cespedes, says he is simply trying to defend his purchasers from an extended jail sentence, however is assured he can beat the costs if the case goes to trial.
To some, Álvarez and her co-defendants stay heroes.
“In Venezuela, everybody fights the dictatorship on Twitter, however these courageous males and girl really risked their lives,” stated retired Venezuelan Capt. Javier Nieto, a longtime conspirator who appeared in a video alongside Goudreau in Florida the day of failed seashore raid to induce restraint. “Because it didn’t work out, Colombia to save lots of face within the worldwide group needed to make arrests. In order that they grabbed whoever they might discover whereas the cowards who betrayed their guarantees stay untouched.”
The proof towards Alvarez consists of footage from safety cameras in an condominium constructing exhibiting her handing off heavy baggage to an individual who could be caught hours later transporting the weapons.
She claims she didn’t know what was inside the luggage, which she stated had been dropped off at her condominium by a number of of the plotters on directions from Alcalá whereas she was in Spain.
“All I attempted to do was assist some Venezuelan troopers who trusted and believed in Juan Guaidó’s phrase when he requested them to hitch him on the appropriate aspect of historical past,” stated Álvarez on the verge of tears as she rushes to complete the decision earlier than being returned to her darkish cell. “If I’ve to pay 15 years of jail for that, so be it.”
AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.
Observe Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman
Contact AP’s World Investigations group at [email protected]
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