“So, it may seem as if the recent failed expedition against Maduro is a major blunder. However, I would like to think that this is only the beginning, and that those Rambo wannabes may have actually sparked a greater desire for liberation among Venezuelans.”
ast week, there was a coup attempt in Venezuela. Sixty men (mostly Venezuelans, but there were two American citizens) attempted an amphibious attack on Venezuela’s coastal town of Macuto. The operation was a complete failure. Eight men were killed, and the rest have been captured. One former Navy SEAL with knowledge of the logistical details, described the attack as “mind-bogglingly dumb” in a recent interview with Vox.
Indeed, it was. It was so poorly organized that now there are theories emerging that, in fact, this whole affair was staged by Nicolás Maduro himself in order to provide cover for his ever-increasing authoritarian tendencies. Perhaps he is following the Cuban script: After the embarrassment Americans brought to themselves in the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro became far stronger in Cuba. Perhaps Maduro thought this was his chance to do a false flag operation and accomplish the same feat.
I, for one, am not buying this theory. We still do not know the full story, but it seems that the brain behind this whole affair was one Jordan Goudreau, a distinguished Green Beret desperately in need of money to settle old debts, who sold his mercenary services to Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader. Guaidó has also been desperately in need of someone to launch a military attack against Maduro (he has been unable to persuade Venezuela’s corrupt armed forces to do so). As such, after some quick negotiations, Goudreau and Guaidó apparently reached a deal. Unsurprisingly, in such rushed circumstances, it all amounted to a disaster.
Predictably, the operation has been severely criticized by both supporters and opponents of Maduro’s regime. By contrast, in light of Venezuelan history, I think it deserves some defense.
Maduro criticizes the operation as imperialist American aggression, under the direction of Washington. President Donald Trump denies this, and indeed the operation was so recklessly organized that it is very unlikely that higher levels of the United States government would approve of such a plan.
Naturally, to a self-proclaimed anti-imperialist leader such as Maduro, these tactics are deplorable. Yet, Maduro conveniently leaves out that Venezuela—as a nation—owes its existence to filibuster expeditions.
Yet, this particular expedition is very reminiscent of 19th century filibusters. These were American adventurers who led small bands of mercenaries to seize land and riches in Latin America. Some of them even managed to become dictators of Latin American countries, such as William Walker in Nicaragua. Most of these filibuster adventures seemed to function independently of official American support; however, historians have long considered that some of these expeditions may have, in fact, been used as cover for government-approved operations. We cannot rule out altogether that Grodeau’s expedition to Venezuela was a 21st century-style filibuster expedition that, indeed, had the secret approval of Washington.
Naturally, to a self-proclaimed anti-imperialist leader such as Maduro, these tactics are deplorable. Yet, Maduro conveniently leaves out that Venezuela—as a nation—owes its existence to filibuster expeditions. Venezuela was a colony of the Spanish empire, which had turned increasingly despotic. Francisco de Miranda, one of Venezuela’s most esteemed heroes, was exiled by Spanish authorities. But he eventually reached Washington in 1806. Once there, he held conversations with President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison. Miranda was seeking support for a filibuster expedition to Venezuela.
In 1806, Miranda’s expedition of some two hundred mercenaries departed from New York and landed in Santa Ana de Coro. Finding no support among locals, Miranda had to withdraw, leaving behind some twenty of his men to be executed by Spanish authorities. In the aftermath, Spanish diplomats filed a complaint against the American government for supporting a rebellion against Spain. Indeed, this was a violation of the 1794 Neutrality Act. As with all filibuster expeditions, American authorities denied any involvement. Yet, the affair led to a trial, in which one of Miranda’s supporters, William Stephens Smith, testified that Jefferson and Madison gave direct orders to assist Miranda in his expedition.
Just as with Godreau’s failed coup attempt, Miranda’s expedition was illegal, had support of American imperialists, and was made up of mercenaries. Yet, every March 12th, Venezuelan politicians (including Maduro) laud Miranda’s expedition as “anti-imperialist,” even though by attempting to seek independence from the Spanish empire, Miranda was catering to American and British imperial interests.
This only goes on to prove that—in the overwhelming majority of subversive movements—there will always be impure interests from outside agents. French and Spanish imperialists supported the American Revolution; Lenin received German support; Castro eventually surrendered to Soviet influence. Yet, support from outsiders does not take away legitimacy from movements that genuinely seek to remove tyrants from power. Miranda was rising up against a despotic power. And, in the grander scheme of things, Venezuelans have forgiven him for receiving support from other empires, seeking mercenaries, and violating laws.
Maduro is indisputably a tyrant, and Venezuelans’ priority ought to be to get rid of this nuisance. Just as they forgave Miranda, Venezuelans must begin to forgive Guaidó for seeking the assistance of filibusters and mercenaries.
Most opponents to Maduro’s dictatorship are aware that no subversive movement can ever be pure, so they would not really mind if mercenaries and filibusters get the job done. Yet, in this particular case, opponents to Maduro feel outrage at how poorly organized this whole adventure was (to the point of being comical), and now they fear that the incident may have actually strengthened Maduro. To which I reply: Remember Miranda again.
Yet, Miranda’s failed expedition is significant, to the extent that it ignited the spark. And, for that, he deserves the honor of being considered the precursor of Venezuelan independence.
Miranda’s expedition took place in 1806. After his colossal failure, he returned to his exile in London. Then, in 1810, in the wake of Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, Venezuelan revolutionaries took bolder steps towards independence, and Miranda made his way to Venezuela to lead rebel forces against the Spanish. By 1812, Venezuelan forces collapsed, Miranda was arrested, and was sent to prison in Spain, where he died in 1816. In many ways, Miranda was also reckless, and his whole enterprise seemed to be a failure.
Except that it wasn’t. By 1821, Venezuela was fully independent from Spain. Today, Miranda is honored as El precursor. Surely Spanish authorities were so stubborn in their opposition to reforms that—sooner or later—there would have been rebellions all over the empire. Yet, Miranda’s failed expedition is significant, to the extent that it ignited the spark. And, for that, he deserves the honor of being considered the precursor of Venezuelan independence.
In the years that followed, there were major military blunders among Venezuelan patriots. Simón Bolívar himself (Venezuela’s liberator) led yet another failed expedition to Venezuela (this time with Haitian support), and it was so poorly organized that he had to retreat with great shame (for this particular incident, Karl Marx would go on to call him the “Napoleon of retreats”). Yet, Bolivar persisted, and, ultimately, with the help of a significant influx of British mercenaries, he clinched his goal of independence. Few people today care whether or not his soldiers even spoke Spanish; the bottom line was that they got the job done.
So, it may seem as if the recent failed expedition against Maduro is a major blunder. However, I would like to think that this is only the beginning, and that those Rambo wannabes may have actually sparked a greater desire for liberation among Venezuelans. Better organized rebellions will hopefully ensue, just as Venezuela’s subsequent independence movement took cue from Miranda and his filibusters. Time will tell.
Dr. Gabriel Andrade is a university professor. His twitter is @gandrade80