MIAMI (AP) – It was mid-January when former green beret Jordan Goudreau, eager to put into effect a secret plan to enter Venezuela and arrest President Nicolás Maduro, flew to the Colombian city of Barranquilla to meet with a possible collaborator.
To get there, Goudreau and two other former members of the US special forces had unusual help: a chartered flight from Miami’s Opa Locka executive aircraft airport on a plane owned by a Venezuelan businessman so close to the government of the late President Hugo Chávez that He spent nearly four years in a United States prison for trying to hide clandestine cash payments from his allies.
The owner of the Cessna Citation II, an airplane with yellow and blue decorative lines and registered in Venezuela with the number YV-3231, was Franklin Durán, according to three people aware of the businessman’s movements who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear to retaliation. Over more than two decades, Durán has had numerous commercial ties to the Venezuelan socialist government, making him a rare option to help a gang of would-be mercenaries overthrow Maduro, the person whom Chávez himself chose to make it happen.
Durán and his collaborators are now at the center of multiple investigations in the United States, Colombia and Venezuela about how Goudreau, a war veteran with three Bronze Stars but little knowledge of Venezuela, managed to launch a failed raid that ended with the capture and arrest of his two comrades from the special forces.
A Caracas court on Thursday ordered Durán’s arrest as part of his investigation into the raid. In a statement, the Supreme Court indicated that Durán – who was arrested on Sunday along with his brother according to information obtained by the AP – is suspected of crimes that include treason against the homeland, rebellion, conspiracy with a foreign government, illegal arms trafficking of war and terrorism. The arrest of seven other people was also ordered.
The government has yet to comment on the arrest warrant, nor has it explained what role Durán allegedly played in the plot.
But Durán’s proximity to high officials has given new strength to accusations by opposition leader Juan Guaidó and US officials that he was secretly working for Maduro and would have appropriated “Operation Gideon,” the name of the frustrated plot by Goudreau.
“Here is financing from the dictatorship,” Guaidó said in a post-raid interview with EVTV Miami, an online outlet run by Venezuelan exiles. “A businessman, figurehead closely linked to the host of the gossip program,” he added, referring to the leader of the Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, whose weekly program on state television, powered by the vast Venezuelan intelligence network he controls, launched for the first time. in March accusations of a planned attack by Goudreau.
Maduro has said that Guaidó, whose advisers signed a 42-page deal with Goudreau in Miami in 2019 that outlines a plan to take control of the country, was behind the raid last month, backed by the CIA or DEA . However, Goudreau said he was never paid and that both sides were angry and broke off relationships. For its part, the government of US President Donald Trump denied being behind the plan, and the president joked that if the United States had been involved, Maduro would have done very badly.
The Associated Press revealed on May 1 the story of Goudreau’s strange plan to train an army of volunteers made up of a few dozen Venezuelan army deserters in clandestine camps on the border with neighboring Colombia. They planned to attack military bases and unleash a popular uprising. Goudreau’s partner, in what some opposition leaders called a suicide mission, was retired Venezuelan general Clíver Alcalá, who lived in Barranquilla after fleeing his native country in 2018.
Alcalá surrendered to US authorities in March after being accused of drug trafficking, just days after the Colombian police confiscated a cache of weapons that, according to the retired general, belonged to the rebel group that he and Goudreau were preparing to overthrow Maduro. .
But despite not having the open backing of the United States, commanding a poorly trained force that had no chance in the face of the Venezuelan army, and indications that Maduro’s spies had infiltrated the group, Goudreau continued with his plans.
On May 3, two days after the AP article was published, he appeared in a video from Florida announcing that a few dozen “freedom fighters” under his command had launched an attack on a beach to enter Venezuela and Capture Maduro. The invaders were caught almost immediately, and the President aired television shows of US fighters as evidence of a US-backed coup attempt. The operation has been widely derided on social media as “Bay of Little pigs ”, referring to the 1961 fiasco in Cuba.
The reasons why the plan was followed through are still a mystery. But much of the attention is now focused on the role played by Durán and his brother Pedro.
The two were discreetly arrested in Venezuela on Sunday, although Pedro was later released, according to Edward Shohat, Franklin Durán’s lawyer in Miami.
The story of Goudreau’s flight aboard Durán’s plane was first reported by the PanAm Post, a conservative digital medium managed primarily by Venezuelan exiles in Miami.
According to Colombian flight documents that PanAm Post shared with the AP, the trip on January 16 was contracted by Servicios Aéreos Mineros (SERAMI), a charter airline created in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar, famous for its gold production.
An aviation industry executive confirmed the authenticity of the documents and said that the Durán brothers used SERAMI to organize their frequent flights between Colombia and Venezuela.
According to this person, Franklin Durán regularly traveled to Barranquilla – passenger reports provided to the AP show that he made at least four flights between the two countries between November 2019 and January 2020 – to bring food and other supplies to Venezuela, where sanctions The United States and years of mismanagement have made stores lack many products.
One of the owners of SERAMI is Juan Carlos Ynfante, according to two people familiar with the company. Ynfante was arrested last year on Grand Cayman Island for piloting a plane with $ 135,000 not reported in cash. In addition, he appears as president of the firm in a federal seizure case in the United States in 2008 in which a plane with the company logo was detained in Fort Lauderdale trying to smuggle 150 kilos of cocaine.
In addition to the two usual pilots from Goudreau and Duran, passengers on the mid-January flight included Luke Denman and Airan Berry, two veterans and former Goudreau teammates in the 10th Special Forces Group in Stuttgart, Germany, where he was stationed earlier. to retire from service in 2016. The two, who are from Texas, said in videotaped confessions that they believed their colleague’s company, Silvercorp USA, had been hired by Guaidó.
It is not known why the men traveled to Colombia on the plane or if Durán was aware of it. Goudreau hung up the phone when contacted by the AP on Wednesday and did not respond to text messages with questions about the flight.
Yacsy Álvarez was also on the plane. Aspiring insurgents in Colombian camps said Álvarez, 39, was a trusted aide to Alcalá who also worked for Durán.
A volunteer soldier said that when he needed to fly between Bogotá and Barranquilla for a meeting, it was Álvarez who bought his tickets. On other occasions, he transferred to her, through Zelle, a digital payment network, small amounts of money that he collected from friends and family to feed the makeshift army. In his prison statement, Denman noted that it was Álvarez who drove him and Berry by car from Barranquilla to the camps where the rebels were training.
Álvarez’s whereabouts are unknown.
In 2017, Álvarez was named director of Industrias Venoco de Centroamérica, two years after the firm was registered in Panama. The company is a subsidiary of Industrias Venoco, a former leading manufacturer of car lubricants that was controlled by Durán before it was nationalized by Chávez in 2010.
When he lost control of Venoco, Durán was serving a four-year prison sentence in the United States for acting as Chávez’s unregistered agent. The South American president had sent Durán to put pressure on businessman Alejandro Antonini, who was involved in the so-called “Suitcase Scandal,” a frustrated attempt to smuggle $ 800,000 in cash for the 2007 campaign of former Argentine President Cristina Fernández aboard a leased plane.
During the trial, the prosecution stated that Durán used to carry a plaque identifying him as an intelligence officer of the Venezuelan Navy. The men asked his friend to bear the consequences and to keep quiet, but without their knowledge, Antonini was cooperating with the FBI and recorded their conversations.
After Durán’s release in 2011 and his return to Venezuela, a legal battle broke out with the Venezuelan state to claim Venoco’s property. The businessman maintained a discreet life while undergoing cancer treatment. Eventually, it recovered some of the company’s assets, including the name and a subsidiary in Barranquilla. Her brother, who responds to Pedro’s stage name “La Voz”, tried to carve out a career as a salsa singer.
A woman who answered the phone that appears as that of the Panama firm on the Venoco website said the company is private and managed from Barranquilla. An email sent to the Panamanian subsidiary through the Venoco portal received no response and the two phones at the Barranquilla headquarters that appear on the page were not working.
Durán is also the founder of Ruibal & Durán, a company that sold armored vests and other equipment to the Venezuelan security forces, material that would have been valuable to an invading army.
He and his brother had a close relationship with Alcalá. In images circulating on social networks, Pedro Durán and Alcalá can be seen together, including one where the two are sitting relaxed around a table and in which the general is wearing a Venoco shirt.
Franklin Durán’s attorney in the United States declined Thursday to discuss the type of relationship his client had with Goudreau, if any, or the January flight.
But Duran seems to have never wavered in his support for the anti-imperialist revolution to which he owes his fortune.
“I am a man of principles and convictions, which were put to the test when they tried to make me admit to mounting against Venezuelan institutions,” he wrote in an open letter from his cell in a Texas prison in 2010. “Despite everything media effort of an empire and seeing myself subjected to more than nine months in a punishment cell, I never renounced my values. ”
Associated Press investigative journalists Randy Herschaft in New York and James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida contributed to this report.
You can contact the AP Global Research Team at Investigative@ap.org.
Joshua Goodman is on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/APjoshgoodman
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