- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2020

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - A Venezuelan court has sentenced more than a dozen rebel soldiers to 24 years in prison for a failed beach attack alongside two former U.S. special forces members accused in the armed operation aiming to capture President Nicolás Maduro, officials said Friday.

The ruling against 15 ex-Venezuela soldiers came days after the two ex-Green Berets - Luke Denman and Airan Berry - were sentenced to 20 years in prison for the same operation in early May.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab said in a state TV broadcast that the Venezuelan combatants confessed to charges of terrorism, rebellion and conspiracy.

“They’ve admitted responsibility for the acts they’re accused of committing,” Saab said. “They’re convicted and confessed.”

“Operation Gideon” was launched from makeshift training camps in neighboring Colombia and left at least eight rebel soldiers dead while a total of 82 others have been arrested.

Ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, who operated a Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA, claimed responsibility for the failed attack and had hired his two former Army buddies to prepare a small cadre of deserting Venezuelan soldiers living at the makeshift camps.

Venezuelan prosecutors have ordered his arrest. Goudreau is believed to be in the U.S., where he also is under investigation for possibly violating arms trafficking laws in connection with the botched incursion.

Lawyers for the two former U.S. soldiers have said their clients’ rights were violated because the private attorneys were not allowed to represent them in the hearing when they pleaded guilty. Saab rejected the claims, saying the men had public defenders and a translator during the Aug. 7 hearing inside El Helicoide jail in Caracas operated by Venezuela’s intelligence police.

The failed raid also prompted claims that U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó had authorized Goudreau through a signed agreement to carry out the attack, executed by two of Guaidó’s former political advisers in the United States. U.S. officials have denied any role in the attack.

Also Friday, an investment firm announced it is resuming satellite TV transmissions for Venezuelans whose service was cut off abruptly due to U.S. sanctions aimed at driving Maduro from power.

The firm, Scale Capital, said it reached a deal with the AT&T subsidiary DirecTV Latin America to take over the subscription service, providing programming to 2 million customers across Venezuela - more than 40% of the country’s subscription TV market.

“We are very excited about this launch and we want to thank all parties for their support,” Scale Capital director Jacopo Bracco, said in a statement. The firm’s website lists its address as Santiago, Chile.

Dallas-based AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

DirecTV abruptly ditched its popular satellite TV service on May 19, citing U.S. sanctions that prohibited DirecTV from broadcasting channels that were required by Maduro’s administration. Scale Capital did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press asking whether the two channels - Globovision and PDVSA TV - will be aired.

The administration of President Donald Trump is running what it calls a “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at ending the socialist leader’s rule, saying he has has led the once wealthy oil nation into ruin.

Maduro speaking on TV confirmed the agreement that reconnects millions of Venezuelans to DirecTV despite attempts by his detractors, who he called “infantile bozos and perverse right-wing coup mongers” who “believed that they could can harm Venezuela.”

A coalition of nations including the United States, the European Union and many countries across the Americas published a statement Friday urging a return to democracy in Venezuela repeated a call for fresh presidential elections.

Many of the countries were from the Lima Group and the International Contact Group that formed to help seek a solution to Venezuela’s political and economic crisis that has led to roughly 5 million resident fleeing.

Many of those nations recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate interim leader, arguing Maduro’s reelection was fraudulent.

The statement urged all Venezuelan political parties and institutions to take steps toward creating a transitional government to hold a fresh election.

“We call for an end to all political persecution and acts of repression,” the statement said. “The current pandemic and Venezuela’s overwhelmed public health care system have added urgency to the need to end the status quo.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza pushed back, saying the letter was drafted by officials in the Trump administration and ordered subservient nations to agree. It was written with the intent of sabotaging Venezuela’s electoral process, Arreaza said on Twitter. “They don’t believe in democracy. Phonies!”

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