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Venezuela ‘failed coup plot’: What we know so far

The Venezuelan government said this week it foiled an armed incursion from the sea, killing a group of alleged mercenaries who sought to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro and spark a coup. Authorities blamed the alleged plot on the United States and said a number of “terrorists”, including two former US soldiers, had been arrested.  The…

Venezuela ‘failed coup plot’: What we know so far

The Venezuelan government said this week it foiled an armed incursion from the sea, killing a group of alleged mercenaries who sought to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro and spark a coup.
Authorities blamed the alleged plot on the United States and said a number of “terrorists”, including two former US soldiers, had been arrested. 
The incident came at a time of high tensions between the US and Venezuela.
The US is among nearly 60 countries that back opposition politician Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. It has also imposed tough economic sanctions against Caracas in an effort to force Maduro, whom it accuses of having rigged elections in 2018, to step down.
Here is what we know so far about the events of recent days:
What happened?
Maduro’s government initially said eight people were killed as they tried to enter the country on May 3 via the Caribbean coast to topple the president. The Associated Press news agency said officials later revised the number of the suspects killed to six.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said the attackers tried to land on speedboats before dawn on a beach at Macuto, about an hour north of Caracas, but were intercepted by the military and special police units.
According to Reverol, the group, which departed from neighbouring Colombia, planned to carry out “terrorist attacks”, including assassinating officials.
He added the plan aimed “to increase the spiral of violence, generate chaos and confusion … and with that lead to a new attempt at a coup d’etat”.

Venezuelan soldiers move a suspect from a helicopter after what Venezuelan authorities described was a ‘mercenary incursion’ [Handout via Reuters]

Who was involved?
Venezuelan authorities said they had arrested 13 “terrorists” involved in the incident, including the son of a prominent imprisoned general.
In a televised address on Monday night, Maduro also showed what he said were the passports and other identification papers belonging to two former US army members: Airan Berry, 41 and Luke Denman, 34.

According to The Associated Press, military records showed both were decorated soldiers who served in Iraq.
Maduro described the pair as “members of Donald Trump’s security” and said they were captured in a boat west of Caracas along with six other “terrorists”.

Equipment shown by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro during a meeting with the Bolivarian armed forces a day after Venezuela’s government said it foiled the attempted incursion by ‘terrorist mercenaries’ [Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters]

Who was behind the alleged incursion?
On Sunday night, Jordan Goudreau, a US military veteran who leads a Florida-based security company, SilverCorp USA, claimed responsibility for the incursion.
He said he was working with two US citizens in an operation designed to capture, not kill, Maduro and “liberate” Venezuela.
Goudreau said he had organised the raid on a “shoestring budget” after signing an agreement with the US-backed Guaido, whom Goudreau accuses of failing to pay him.
Maduro tied the alleged plot to Guaido and Colombia’s right-wing President Ivan Duque.
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab shared on social media a video in which Goudreau says an operation against Maduro involving hired mercenaries was under way.
Saab also showed an alleged contract that said SilverCorp USA had a $212m agreement with Guaido using funds “stolen” from state oil company PDVSA, whose US subsidiary, Citgo, was put under the opposition leader’s control.

Venezuelan security forces boats after Venezuela’s government announced the failed ‘mercenary’ incursion, in Macuto [Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

Reaction
Guaido denied having any relationship with Goudreau and any involvement in the incursion.
He also cast doubt on the Maduro government’s version of the events.

“They’re trying to create a state of apparent confusion, an effort to hide what’s happening in Venezuela,” Guaido said, citing local issues – such as petrol shortages, a deadly prison riot and a violent gang battle – in a country that has been gripped by deepening social, political and economic crises.
President Donald Trump said the US had no part in the incident.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, echoing Trump, said: “The United States government had nothing to do with what’s happened in Venezuela in the last few days.”
The State Department accused the Maduro government of a “highly questionable representation of the details”, saying it did not accept the account at face value and was seeking more information.
Reacting to Trump’s denial, Venezuela’s Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez showed a photograph of Goudreau next to Trump.
He claimed the photograph was taken on October 18, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it appeared on Goudreau’s Instagram account.
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China

China failed to warn public of COVID-19 pandemic for six days: AP

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they were probably facing a pandemic from the new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions began their annual trip home for the Lunar New Year celebrations. President Xi Jinping warned the public on January…

China failed to warn public of COVID-19 pandemic for six days: AP

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they were probably facing a pandemic from the new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions began their annual trip home for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
President Xi Jinping warned the public on January 20 – the seventh day – but by then, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press (AP) news agency and estimates based on retrospective infection data.
More:

Alarms raised in China as pneumonia outbreaks infect dozens

China reports first death from ‘mysterious’ new disease

How the coronavirus spread

The delay from January 14 to January 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus. 
But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time – the beginning of the outbreak. China’s attempt to walk a line between alerting the public and avoiding panic set the stage for a pandemic that has now infected nearly 2 million people and taken more than 126,000 lives.
“This is tremendous,” said Dr Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient.”
Balancing act
However, another epidemiologist, Benjamin Cowley at the University of Hong Kong, noted that it may have been a tricky call. If health officials raise the alarm too soon it can damage their credibility and cripple their ability to mobilise the public, he said.
The six-day delay by China’s leaders in Beijing came on top of almost two weeks during which the national Center for Disease Control (CDC) did not register any new cases, internal bulletins obtained by AP confirmed. Yet during that time, from January 5 to January 17, hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals not only in Wuhan, where the illness was first detected in a market, but also across the country. 
China’s rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send bad news up the chain of command muffled early warnings, analysts say.
Without these internal reports, it took the first case outside China, in Thailand on January 13, to galvanise leaders in Beijing into recognising the danger before them. 

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied suppressing information in the early days, saying it immediately reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Allegations of a cover-up or lack of transparency in China are groundless,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a Thursday news conference.
The documents show that the head of China’s National Health Commission, Ma Xiaowei, laid out a grim assessment of the situation in a confidential January 14 teleconference with provincial health officials.
A memo states that the teleconference was held to convey instructions on the coronavirus from President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, but does not specify what those instructions were.
“The epidemic situation is still severe and complex, the most severe challenge since SARS in 2003, and is likely to develop into a major public health event,” the memo cites Ma as saying. 
In a faxed statement, the National Health Commission said China has published information on the outbreak in an “open, transparent, responsible and timely manner,” in accordance with “important instructions” repeatedly issued by Xi.
The documents come from an anonymous source in the medical field who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. The AP confirmed the contents with two other sources in public health familiar with the teleconference. 
Under a section titled “sober understanding of the situation,” the memo singled out the case in Thailand, saying that the situation had “changed significantly” because of the possible spread of the virus abroad.
“All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic,” it said.
Threat downplayed
The National Health Commission distributed a 63-page set of instructions to provincial health officials, obtained by the AP. The instructions, marked “not to be publicly disclosed,” ordered health officials nationwide to identify suspected cases, hospitals to open fever clinics, and doctors and nurses to don protective gear. 
In public, however, officials continued to downplay the threat.
“The risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is low,” Li Qun, the head of the China CDC’s emergency centre, told Chinese state television on January 15.
Under the new orders, the next day officials in Wuhan and elsewhere finally got CDC-approved testing kits and a green light to start confirming new cases. Across the country, dozens of reported cases then began to surface, in some cases among patients who were infected earlier but had not yet been tested. 
On January 20, Xi made his first public comments on the virus, saying the outbreak “must be taken seriously”. A leading Chinese epidemiologist, Dr Zhong Nanshan, meanwhile, announced for the first time that the virus was transmissible from person to person on national television.
The delay may support accusations by US President Donald Trump that the Chinese government’s secrecy held back the world’s response to the virus. However, even the public announcement on January 20 left the United States nearly two months to prepare for the pandemic.

Medical staff at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25 as the army deployed medical specialists to the city that was then at the epicentre of the outbreak and had been sealed off from the outside world [Hector Retamal/AFP]

Some health experts said Beijing took decisive action given the information available. 
“They may not have said the right thing, but they were doing the right thing,” said Dr Ray Yip, the retired founding head of the US Centers for Disease Control’s office in China. “On the 20th, they sounded the alarm for the whole country, which is not an unreasonable delay.” 
But others say an earlier warning would have saved lives. If the public had been warned a week earlier to practise social distancing, wear masks and cut back on travel, cases could have been cut by up to two-thirds, one paper later found. 
“The earlier you act,” said Los Angeles epidemiologist Zhang, “the easier you can control the disease.”
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