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Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written by National Security analyst General Dan Christman. To access our Macro Policy research please email sales@hedgeye.com.

Venezuela | La Tragedia Continua - 5 26 2020 11 45 26 AM

The once proud country of Venezuela continues to descend into ever-lower circles of Dante's hell. The oil price collapse, twined with COVID-19, has devastated a country whose economy had already plummeted by over 60% since President Nicolas Maduro assumed power seven years ago. Tragically, business conditions are now even worse.  

On top of these horrific realities, a farcical "coup invasion" was launched earlier this month, code-named "Operation Gideon" by the conspirators; it was spear-headed by a former U.S. Army Green Beret, Jordan Goudreau, and it wound up deepening the Venezuelan tragedy. 

What does this all mean, for a country that still remains one of the most important in the hemisphere? 

First, to be clear, Maduro is not leaving any time soon. Despite promising political developments 15 months ago to ease him out of the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Maduro will be staying; most of the reasons are by now apparent: 

  • First, Venezuela's opposition remains deeply divided. The leader of that opposition, Juan Guaido, signed the original contract to retain the "services" of Goudreau, and in the wake of the invasion, a host of his key advisors and supporters resigned. In terms of international credibility, this is the last thing the opposition needed.
  • Further, Cuban security forces by the thousands have dispatched or disrupted any threat to the regime; Havana's intelligence and military services are omni-present.
  • Third, President Trump has lost interest. 
  • And of course, China and Russia welcome the chance to play in our neighborhood, at minimal cost. Adding to the list of "usual suspects," Iran is now sending five fuel tankers to Venezuela, to relieve a stark fuel shortage - the supreme irony for a country with the world's largest proven oil reserves. 
  • Finally, Secretary of State Pompeo has given up on the Lima Group - a once promising multi-national effort to effect a political transition in Caracas. 

And so, the biggest human tragedy in the hemisphere continues.  

But what about the so-called "coup-invasion" itself?  The Washington Post ran an expose recently on its origins and failures, with insights on Jordan Goudreau, the apparent organizer, and those who rallied to his cause. 

Some sources inside the U.S. special operations community have speculated that the entire "coup invasion" was a Maduro set-up. What special ops veteran would carry their military ID cards and passports on such an operation? 

With an economy in free-fall and a sense that his political opposition is heading in the same direction, it's entirely plausible that Maduro followed advice from his Russian handlers; a set-up like this is, after all, drawn from old Russian play books.   

As an aside, what's disturbing in its own right were the insights on the numerous "security companies" formed from veterans of the U.S. special operations community -- and those they recruit. 

The problem? What do these elite and wonderfully trained warriors do when their service ends? The "re-entry" is challenging, and often tragic. These professionals have refined war-fighting skills - some of the best in the world; but the transferability of those skills to the private sector is often wanting.

Numerous times over the last twenty years, especially as the size of our special operations cohort doubled after 9/11, the story repeats itself: private contractors, themselves veterans of numerous Afghan/Iraq/Sahel deployments, pushing the edge of the legal envelope, attracting hundreds, even thousand, of former elite warriors, to join their schemes.   

That so many of these elite fighters get caught up in foolish projects like Goudreau's is yet one more sad chapter - closer to home - in the ever-deepening Venezuelan tragedy.

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ABOUT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAN CHRISTMAN

LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security. Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce. Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.

He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.

Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.