Ever since he fled Venezuela last year, opposition senator Hernan Aleman has dreamed of toppling President Nicolas Maduro.
But, like many of the exiles now holed up in next-door Colombia, he knew that those who talked of doing it by force were often big on words and short on action.
So when he met Jordan Goudreau, an ex-US Special Forces soldier turned mercenary, he finally thought he had the right man.
"He seemed to have the skills necessary to lead a battle like this," Aleman told The Telegraph last week.
"In order to make this successful, you needed four elements: men, a good plan, resources, and - excuse this phrase - a good set of 'cojones', or testicles."
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As it turned out, "cojones" was about the only thing the plan had. Last Sunday, Goudreau's brazen mission to overthrow Maduro's socialist rule ended in disaster, when his 60-strong seaborne "strike force" was caught by Venezuelan forces on the country's northern coast.
Eight men were killed, while others are now in custody, including two of Goudreau's old Green Beret comrades, Luke Denman and Airan Berry. On Thursday, Denman made a televised confession on Venezuelan TV, saying he was being paid $100,000 to arrest Maduro and fly him to America. The aim, he said, was to "help Venezuelans take back control of their country".
Far from doing that, the botched mission has handed Maduro's shaky regime its biggest propaganda coup in years. With Goudreau having boasted - apparently falsely - of having President Donald Trump's tacit backing, Maduro has accused the White House of sponsoring a "terrorist" uprising. "They were playing Rambo," he declared triumphantly.
Trump has denied backing the operation, saying that if he had, it would not have been so amateurish. Indeed, comparisons with the Bay of Pigs debacle in 1961, when 1500 Cuban exiles, backed by tanks and the CIA, tried to overthrow Fidel Castro, are perhaps limited.
After all, how did the mercenaries expected to travel 30 miles to the Venezuelan capital without being challenged? And how, with just 60 lightly armed men, would they penetrate the heavy security around Maduro's presidential compound, let alone take him back to the US?
One answer may be that Goudreau simply talked a good game - and that among Venezuela's exiled opposition, there were many willing to hear his sales pitch. Just as Miami is home to many Cuban exiles, the Colombian capital, Bogota, now hosts a large diaspora of Venezuelan opposition figures and regime defectors, many of them ex-military.
Last January, when Trump formally recognised Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader, as the country's legitimate ruler, they became certain Maduro's days were numbered. But with neither street protests nor international pressure having the desired effect, Aleman and others began exploring military options.
It was into this febrile atmosphere that Goudreau arrived, touting the services of his security firm, Silvercorp. On the face of it, his credentials were impressive. The 43-year-old had served with America's Green Berets in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And he had helped organise security at last year's Venezuela Aid Live concert, organised in Colombia by Sir Richard Branson to pressure Maduro to let in food aid.
"Based on the many times we met, I had a high opinion of him," says Aleman, who fled Venezuela last year after fearing he was to be detained. "He saw an oppressed people and proposed to himself the cause of achieving a change in government."
A closer look at the Silvercorp website might have hinted it was all too good to be true. It boasts of operations in more than 50 countries, with diplomats, top military strategists and captains of industry on its payroll. None, though, are named - nor is there any proof of its claim to have advised Britain's SAS, France's counter-terrorism service, and other elite fighting units worldwide.
Parts of the website's blurb appear to have been plagiarised from the Department of Homeland Security. And bizarrely, an inspirational quote about the warrior spirit comes not from some US general, but Jonathan Harnisch, a self-help guru who writes about his fight with schizophrenia. "I didn't start a coup, I just got quoted," a baffled Harnisch told The Telegraph. "He never contacted me."
Still, Goudreau made enough impression to be introduced to both representatives of Guaidó and also to Cliver Alcala, a dissident Venezuelan general who was one of the main agitators for a coup.
General Alcala's CV was likewise somewhat patchy. Since 2011, he has been on a US "wanted" list of Venezuelan regime figures accused of trafficking hundreds of tons of cocaine to the US. But in 2016, he fell out with Maduro and fled to Bogota, where he told Goudreau that he had 300 soldiers at his command.
Goudreau offered to train them as a strike force - a task for which he claims to have signed a $200m contract with Guaidó. Guaidó has denied the claim, with sources close to him saying that talks petered out because the mission seemed like "suicide".
Goudreau, however, seem determined to press ahead, regardless of the mission's difficulties. In late March, Gen Alcala voluntarily handed himself over to DEA officials in Bogota, who have now extradited him back to the US to face drug trafficking charges.
Why he did so is unclear, although the move came a day after Washington issued a $10m reward for his capture, along with a $15m bounty on Maduro and several other government figures, whom Washington also accuses of drug trafficking. Earlier that same month, Gen Alcala had also been linked to a large cache of US-made assault rifles found by Colombian police, allegedly bought by Goudreau from a Venezuelan-owned gun shop in Miami.
"When Alcala was extradited, that hurt us, because he was the boss, the Venezuelan official who was at the top of this," added Aleman. "We lost an important man, we lost arms."
Already, though, many would-be recruits were wary. "I didn't see the logistics needed to make it successful, everything seemed adrift," said Pedro Ruiz, 25, a former National Guard sergeant who declined an invite to join in.
"Going through the capital was not the answer", added Eddier "Marino" Rodriguez, a defected army sergeant who tried to organise his own invasion plan last year, but cancelled it after news leaked. "That's where the state is in control."
Worse was to come. On May 1, two days before the mission, the Associated Press wire agency published a full account of the plan, detailing how the 300 troops were woefully under-equipped. Disgruntled insiders described it as the work of "anti-Maduro goofballs".
Yet despite its cover being blown, Goudreau sent his men in last Sunday, apparently believing Maduro was so unpopular his security forces would switch sides. He even live-Tweeted the mission, apparently hoping for Trump's backing.
"Strikeforce incursion into Venezuela. 60 Venezuelan, 2 American ex Green beret @realDonaldTrump," it read, tagging the president's Twitter feed.
Goudreau is currently in the US, having failed to take part in the mission himself because his boat had broken down. He is now facing an FBI probe in connection with the weapons brought from Miami, as well as an arrest warrant from Venezuela.
He has pleaded for help from Washington to get his men back, describing them as "American heroes" who now risk torture in jail. "Our leaders should burn in hell if they ignore this," he said.
Yet as a sworn enemy of Trump, Maduro may demand a very high price to hand the two US servicemen back. Indeed, he may view them as just the insurance policy he needs against any future plan by Washington to dislodge him. To borrow Aleman's words, the American "cojones" are now very firmly in Maduro's grasp.