Two former US special forces soldiers who were arrested in Venezuela during an alleged plot to invade the country by sea and topple President Nicolás Maduro have each been sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Venezuela’s attorney-general confirmed the news on Twitter, saying the men had admitted their guilt on charges of conspiracy, arms trafficking and terrorism.
Airan Berry and Luke Denman were detained in early May along with dozens of Venezuelan co-conspirators after they tried to land on the coast in two small boats. The Venezuelan authorities easily quashed the incursion, killing eight men and arresting the others.
In video testimony recorded in custody Denman said they planned to seize an airport in Caracas “bringing in planes [including] one to put Maduro on to take him back to the US”. The two men said they were working for Silvercorp, a private security firm in Florida.
Mr Maduro described the incident as an “armed incursion, planned by mercenary groups . . . on the orders of Donald Trump”. The Trump administration strenuously denied any role. “If we had been involved, it would have gone differently,” said Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state.
It later emerged that, months earlier, the Venezuelan opposition led by Juan Guaidó had spoken to Silvercorp about the possibility of mounting an invasion and capturing senior members of the Maduro regime. The two sides even signed a preliminary contract.
But Mr Guaidó’s aides said the project fell apart within days and they did not pursue the idea further. They said the opposition was not involved in May’s debacle.
The US and Mr Guaidó have been trying to unseat Mr Maduro since early 2019, when, with Washington’s backing, the opposition leader declared himself the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. Mr Guaidó argued that Mr Maduro had clung to power on the basis of bogus elections the previous year. He based his claim to the leadership on the fact that he is the president of the National Assembly, or congress — the only democratically elected institution left in the country.
Mr Guaidó will lose that position when Venezuela holds congressional elections in December. His opposition coalition is boycotting the vote, saying it will be rigged.