The raid resulted in the arrests of two U.S. citizens and roughly a dozen Venezuelans by local authorities. The Americans were later identified as two former Army Green Berets by a third former Green Beret whose company, Silvercorp USA, was purportedly behind the incursion.
“The United States government had nothing to do with what’s happened in Venezuela in the last few days,” Esper said during a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday afternoon.
Former Green Beret turned private contractor Jordan Goudreau used his company’s Twitter account to announce the raid Sunday, tagging President Donald Trump’s own Twitter account in the process.
An Associated Press investigation published Friday reported that Goudreau worked with retired Venezuelan military Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcalá — who separately was indicted by U.S. prosecutors on narcotics charges — to train Venezuelan defectors at secret camps in Colombia.
The two U.S. citizens now in Venezuelan custody were identified as Luke Denman and Aaron Berry. Maduro held up what appeared to be an expired military ID with Denman’s name on it and a Veterans Affairs ID with Berry’s name during a televised address to Venezuelans on Monday.
Trump also denied any connection to the incident and told reporters before departing the White House on Tuesday that he had only just learned of Denman and Berry’s detention by Venezuelan authorities.
“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump said. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”
Goudreau, who is based in Florida, has said he’s working to help his detained colleagues. He alleged that he signed a contract with U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, an agreement Guaidó denies.
The United States has been at odds with Maduro’s government, sanctioning and indicting officials there, as it attempts to pressure the leader to step aside and allow Guaidó to take control.
“Our view remains that Maduro is a brutal, corrupt leader who has oppressed the people of Venezuela,” Esper said during the briefing. “They deserve better and we will continue to make the case that he should step aside and allow an elected government to form and take that country in the rightful direction that it should go, a very democratic prosperous path that it was on many years before.”
Goudreau provided to Miami-based journalist Patricia Poleo an eight-page “general services agreement” he said Guaidó and his advisers signed in October 2019 with Silvercorp USA. Though the contract was for $213 million, Goudreau said Guaidó never paid.
Due to the diplomatic row between the two countries, there is no U.S. embassy operating in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas that could immediately assist the detained U.S. veterans. All consular services were suspended in March 2019 as crime, civil unrest and the economic outlook of Venezuela declined dramatically, according to the State Department.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.