Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that the U.S. military and government played no role in the bizarre and failed coup attempt in Venezuela allegedly involving at least two former U.S. Special Forces members who were captured.
The U.S. "had nothing to do with what happened in Venezuela in the last few days," Esper said at a Pentagon news briefing, while making clear that U.S. policy backs the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
He said Maduro is a "brutal and corrupt leader who has oppressed the Venezuelan people. They deserve better."
While Esper denied Maduro's charges that the U.S. gave support to the attempt to overthrow him, he said that it would "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 it should go."
At his own triumphal news conference Tuesday, Maduro waved what he said were the U.S. passports and Texas driver's licenses of two Americans he identified as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former Special Forces soldiers, The Associated Press reported from Caracas.
Denman and Berry allegedly were part of a small-boat invasion force from Colombia that was attacked and broken up by the Venezuelan military, Maduro said. He charged that Colombia and the Trump administration were behind the failed attempt to overthrow him.
Another former Green Beret, Florida-based Jordan Goudreau, has claimed responsibility for organizing the invasion with the intent of capturing Maduro to "liberate" Venezuela, the AP reported.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com