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Contractors in Venezuela between the gold rush and coup attempts

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Last year Erik Prince, the former patron of Blackwater had proposed a private regime change to depose Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and the Russians of the Wagner Group. But in reality, they had been deployed to protect him. In recent months, the contractors resurfaced on the news about the South American country. An amateur coup attempt in early May, with three US contractors and a PSC from Melbourne, Florida, involved and a project for the protection of gold mines in which the inevitable Erik Prince would also participate.

We must contextualize both episodes in the continuous tug-of-war between President Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and related international supporters. That is generating further tensions and exchanges of accusations between Washington and Caracas. A situation that, worsened by economic sanctions and global lockdowns for COVID-19, has seen gold mining increase to real economic “crutches” for the country. Precious resources to be protected at any cost.

At dawn on May 3, 2020, a group of mercenaries who left Colombia attempted to enter Venezuela by sea. The landing force, consisting of about sixty armed men, arrived in the country with two boats. The first, smaller and faster, with 11 men on board, landed in Macuto, near La Guairá, north of Caracas. The second, with 47 men on board, instead, arrived the following day in Chuao, in the state of Aragua, a hundred kilometers further west.

The first launch was intercepted around 03:00 by the Venezuelan Security Forces. In the ensuing firefight, eight of the eleven men on board died assassinated, while the others imprisoned. After much footage of the shooting circulated online, at 07:30, the Venezuela Minister of the Interior, Néstor Reverol, gave official news of the ongoing invasion. In the afternoon, the digital news bulletin “Factores de Poder” broadcasted a video in which Jordan Goudreau, Canadian naturalized American citizen and Javier Nieto Quintero, former captain of the Venezuelan Army, claimed the operation. Which objectives were to overthrow the Maduro regime and free the Country.

On May 4, the second boat, which ran out of fuel and was identified on the high seas by the Venezuelan Navy, managed to land part of its men. Eight of them were captured on Chuao beach by local fishermen and militiamen with the support of the military and police. Among the prisoners, two American citizens of who local tv channels showed passports and various identification badges with great propaganda fervour.

At the end of the day, President Maduro, as part of Operación Negro Primero, announced the capture of 13 mercenaries. In the following hours and days, local authorities conducted further arrests, 66 to 27 June, and the fourth phase of the Bolivarian Escudo military exercise, with the mobilization of 25,000 soldiers to face any attacks, begins.

The Maduro government is increasingly surviving thanks to its gold deposits and mining. Hyperinflation, sanctions, and the economic crisis had pushed Caracas to focus on oil exports, foreign remittances, fuel, and drug smuggling. However, global lockdowns, coupled with growing international pressure, have affected all sources of livelihood. The price of Venezuelan oil in April reached its lowest level in 20 years, $9.90 per barrel against an average of 56.70 in 2019, while June production, 393,000 barrels per day, the lowest since 1943.

Exports are also severely limited by international sanctions. Moreover, due to the reduced refining capacity, the treated fuels are so expensive that they are smuggled only within the country, rather than outside national borders. Remittances from Venezuelan migrants – $ 3.5 billion in 2019 – have been hit hard by the global economic blockade linked to the pandemic and are set to shrink to around $ 1.5 billion in 2020.

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