Ex-Green Beret stands with Venezuelan coup plotter ahead of sentencing

by Tommy Grant

MIAMI — A U.S. veteran who plotted to overthrow Venezuela’s president is proudly standing with a former Venezuelan army general who pleaded guilty in New York on terrorism charges, describing his would-be comrade-in-arms as a patriot and dedicated family man worthy of a reduced prison sentence.

Former Green Beret Jordan Goudreau had stayed mostly silent since a ragtag cadre of Venezuelan military deserters he helped clandestinely train in Colombia carried out a cross-border raid in 2020 seeking to oust President Nicolás Maduro. Dubbed Operation Gideon, the raid never stood a chance and two of Goudreau’s fellow Green Beret veterans were quickly arrested, while eight Venezuelans were killed.

Goudreau, 47, resurfaced this week to stand with Cliver Alcalá, the rebellious Venezuelan military officer who would be his most trusted aide in the harebrained scheme. The retired Venezuelan army general is set to be sentenced Jan. 18 on two counts of providing support for a Colombian rebel army designated terrorist group by the U.S. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Goudreau, in a letter filed Monday in Manhattan federal court, recounted how he came to admire his fellow soldier, living with Alcalá and his family in a spartan apartment in northern Colombia. While he makes no mention of their covert coup plans, he described how the two would pool funds to buy rice and other food staples for those in need, tracing Alcalá’s sense of service to the example set by his grandmother, who raised him after he lost his parents, and two decades as a military officer in some of the most remote corners of Venezuela.

“Most soldiers feel the need to be of service, and I know that Cliver always sought to assist those in need,” Goudreau wrote in the one-page letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein urging a reduced sentence. “He had been dedicated to providing whatever little extra he had to give to others.”

Goudreau’s public appeal for leniency stems from his involvement in the bizarre plot highlighted in a 2020 investigation by The Associated Press which blew the lid on jungle camps where Alcalá, going by the nom de guerre Julius Cesar, was training a few dozen desperate Venezuelan military deserters to oust Maduro.

The AP never found any evidence of direct U.S. government involvement despite Goudreau’s constant knocking on doors of the Trump White House and inking of deals with Maduro’s opponents to muster support for what came to be known as the Bay of Piglets, in reference to the far better planned but similarly botched 1961 invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Alcalá’s crimes pre-date his fight for Venezuela’s democracy.

He was arrested in March 2020 as part of a sprawling federal indictment charging him alongside Maduro — who he was by then plotting against — and others in a sprawling conspiracy stretching back two decades to convert Venezuela into a launchpad for flooding the U.S. with cocaine. Earlier, in 2011, he was sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly supplying the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia with surface-to-air missiles and protection when he commanded troops along the shared 1,400-mile border separating the two countries.

As part of plea negotiations, prosecutors dropped the charges of drug trafficking, which Alcalá strenuously denied. Instead he pleaded guilty to providing weapons and material support to a designated terrorist group, a still serious but lesser charge that his attorneys argued was the outcome of his loyalty to his one-time mentor and boss, the late Hugo Chávez.

“General Alcalá never raised any arms directly against the United States or acted in any way against the ideals or citizens of this country,” his attorney, César de Castro, wrote in a sentencing memo filed late Monday. “The conduct underlying his guilty plea, while criminal in the United States, were the actions of a general following the direct orders of his superior officers and the President of Venezuela.”

Prosecutors have yet to recommend a sentence. But Alcalá’s defense team said that the 62-year-old Venezuelan deserves no more than six years behind bars due to his age, harsh imprisonment during the COVID pandemic and his minor role in the offense. They also argue it is unsafe for him to return home to Venezuela, where he faces threats for betraying Maduro.

Then there’s Alcalá’s role as an outspoken foe of Maduro at the same time the Trump administration had offered a $15 million reward for his arrest and was encouraging Venezuelans to rise up against the socialist leader who it blamed for destroying the country’s democracy and its oil rich economy.

According to De Castro, Alcalá opposed Maduro almost from the moment he assumed the mantle of the Bolivarian revolution from Chávez, who died of cancer in 2013, the same year Alcalá retired from the military. His dissent escalated and in 2017, with the knowledge of the U.S. government, he leveraged his influence among the Venezuelan officer corps to rally troops to remove Maduro, according to De Castro.

“These were not theoretical debates about democratic change, these were plans for armed insurrection against a regime and its leadership,” De Castro wrote.

The 2017 barracks revolt failed, ending with several plotters arrested. Alcalá managed to flee across the border to Colombia. A few years later, he would try again, this time in coordination with the democratic opposition led by Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. in 2019 recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

Goudreau, a three-time Bronze Star recipient for bravery in Iraq and Afghanistan, saw in Alcalá a like-minded warrior, one motivated by patriotism, not political payoffs. When the two met, he was living in a small rented apartment, driving a beat-up Nissan and had barely $3,000 in a bank account.

“He was not living the life of an exiled corrupt Latin American leader rich with the spoils of monies corruptly earned,” De Castro wrote.

Alcalá’s arrest doomed whatever dim hopes the secret rebellion had of succeeding. However, less than five weeks after he surrendered to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and two days after the AP exposed the secret plans, a small amphibious force on ramshackle fishing boats invaded and was quickly mopped up. Eight Venezuelan rebels were killed and several others, including Alcala’s own nephew, were arrested.

Also captured was Luke Denman and Airan Berry, former U.S. special forces colleagues of Goudreau, who watched the fiasco unfold from Florida. The two Americans returned home last month as part of a prisoner swap in which the Biden administration released a close ally of Maduro accused in the U.S. of money laundering.

In the aftermath of the raid, FBI agents searched Goudreau’s home and seized $50,000 as part of a federal investigation into arms trafficking. But the cash was later returned and there’s no indication criminal charges are forthcoming.

Goudreau was interviewed last month under oath by an attorney for J.J. Rendon, a Miami-based political strategist who initially recruited him for a military operation to arrest Maduro while serving as a top adviser to Guaidó.

Goudreau sued Rendon in 2020 for breach of contract, although Rendon has said the exploratory contract he signed on behalf of the U.S.-recognized Guaidó government was null and void and the roughly $50,000 he paid Goudreau was for expenses he incurred before a bitter split almost five months before the raid.

Gustavo García Montes, an attorney for Goudreau in the lawsuit, declined to comment.

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