The Venezuelan government said it thwarted an armed invasion by sea in the early hours of Sunday, killing eight assailants and arresting two others in response to what it said was a plot orchestrated by the US and launched from neighbouring Colombia.
Interior Minister Néstor Reverol told state television the attackers tried to land under cover of darkness in speedboats near the port city of La Guaira, close to Caracas.
Describing them as “terrorist mercenaries”, he said they had planned “to assassinate leaders of the revolutionary government” and spark a coup. He said the operation was continuing and there might be further arrests.
Speaking later, the powerful no. 2 of Venezuela’s ruling socialist party, Diosdado Cabello, said eight people had been killed, including a former army captain who he said was an associate of Clíver Alcalá, a former Venezuelan general who fled to Colombia two years ago and recently admitted he was planning an invasion of Venezuela.
Mr Cabello said one of the two men arrested was a Venezuelan who admitted to working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
The incident comes a month after Mr Alcalá handed himself to US authorities after saying he was planning “a military operation against the Maduro dictatorship” from camps on the La Guajira peninsula, which Colombia and Venezuela share. The plot collapsed after Colombian police found semi-automatic rifles, helmets, night-vision goggles and flak jackets in the back of a van. The US denied the plot existed.
Mr Cabello said Sunday’s attempted invasion was part of the same plan. “The rest of the group continued with their plan this morning,” he said.
The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Venezuela, as the Trump administration steps up efforts to force President Nicolás Maduro from power.
In March, the US Department of Justice charged Mr Maduro and a dozen associates in connection with “narco-terrorism” and other crimes, offering $15m for information leading to Mr Maduro’s arrest.
Last month, the US sent warships closer to the Venezuelan coast to stop what President Donald Trump described as “cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors” exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to smuggle drugs to the US.