But the former police officer’s supporters insist that he was never proven guilty and that his arrest was part of a political revenge plot. Simonovis, former chief of security for the Caracas Metropolitan City Hall and former national chief of operations, was detained as he was about to travel to the United States and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Due to his weakened health, he was later transferred to house arrest.
In May 2019, despite reinforced security at his home resulting from a presidential pardon from Venezuela’s Interim President Juan Guaidó, Simonovis managed a movie-like escape that involved climbing over an 82-foot wall, then using a boat and a small airplane to reach the United States. To discuss Venezuela’s present and future, Diálogo spoke with Simonovis in Miami, where he resides temporarily. Simonovis also has an office in Washington, D.C.
Diálogo: Why did you decide to flee your home, despite knowing they had increased security?
Iván Simonovis: They doubled the number of police officers in front of my home; they got fussy, [and] would photograph me every day with that day’s newspaper. I had the photo, I had an electronic wristband, and that’s their typical way of controlling entries and exits from the house. I wasn’t allowed to have visitors or to give statements [and] my use of media and social networks was restricted. I was also told that during a meeting with Maduro in Miraflores they presented my case to him, because they wanted to free certain political prisoners, and when they got to my name, he said, “No, that one can stay where he’s at. Let him die in there.” Everything pointed to [the likelihood] that I would never be able to leave and I would grow old inside my home alone, so that’s when I decided to flee and leave the country.
Diálogo: Did you receive any help from agents of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service? Does that indicate a breakdown between SEBIN agents and Nicolás Maduro?
Simonovis: It’s impossible for a person like me, of such high importance for the government, and without any documents, to leave my home in Caracas and then leave the country without the help of military and police officials. There are a number of police officials and military officers who are against what’s going on in the country. There is what I call a genetic memory of what is real, what democracy is, and they simply are not satisfied or content. They go through the same hardships that all other citizens experience: lack of food, lack of medicine, very low salaries; they’re not trained and not equipped — in other words, extremely deplorable conditions. Those are the people that helped me leave Venezuela, with the pledge that once I arrived inside U.S. territory, I would figure out how to schedule meetings, how to help, and how to provide information that they supply me with to somehow speed up the ousting or the fall of the regime.
Diálogo: Why, after everything you’ve said, are there so many military and police members who still support Maduro?
Simonovis: There’s a saying that the dictator’s favorite diet is bread and water. It’s through bread and water that they keep you going. There are currently 800 political prisoners in Venezuela: 600 civilians and 200 military service members. Just look at what happened days ago to Venezuelan Navy Lieutenant Commander Acosta [Rafael Acosta Arévalo, in custody for his alleged participation in a conspiracy against Nicolás Maduro, who was tortured and died in prison on June 29] to see how far these men can go. In other words, they don’t care about anything at all. All those strategies they use are 60, 70-year-old practices that yielded results in Cuba and in other places, because they’re part of a study I’m sure they conducted. People in Venezuela are afraid to talk to one another, meaning [the government] has delivered a subliminal message that doesn’t allow you to trust anyone at all. I used to talk to five officials, and none of the five trusted each other. They would tell me, “Don’t trust him,” and so, they trusted me.
Diálogo: Talking about security, what is Venezuela’s main problem at this time?
Simonovis: The Colombian guerrilla in general, ELN and FARC, which is not only a problem for Venezuela, but for all neighboring countries as well as for the United States. They’re protected; they’re under the protective cover of the government of dictator Maduro. Hezbollah is another great problem. They have businesses and do things that seem legal in Venezuela, but it’s just a facade. The things they finance are to conduct illegal activities outside Venezuela. That’s not a threat to Latin America, it’s not a threat to the United States; it’s a threat to the world. It’s like no man’s land over there, it’s like ISIS in Syria, and all those groups that roam in a no man’s land, planning and doing things without anyone touching them.
Diálogo: What can countries that are affected by the massive immigration of Venezuelans do, such as Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama?
Simonovis: I would say this must be handled exactly like what occurred during World War II. What to do to stop Hitler? In that case everyone formed alliances; even those that no one believed would ever come together, like Russia and the United States. But there was a coalition of countries that resolutely decided to halt Hitler and his killing machine. How did they achieve it? There was a coalition that came to an agreement and determined the day. They prepared, they came together, they trained together, and they invaded the countries they had to invade through Normandy to recover France and be able to recover everything [Hitler] had done. It’s a political decision by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, the countries in the Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, which are affected as well. First, on the economic side, because when 500,000 people come through your borders, it’s a tough economic imbalance, much more so for those countries that are not rich. On the other hand, it’s a public and communications concern that there are Venezuelan criminals in southern countries who could no longer operate out of Venezuela because they said, “There’s nothing left to steal here,” so they went to other countries. There are criminal gangs in Peru, Ecuador, [and] Colombia that kill, and rob banks, jewelry stores … so those are two problems these people have. How do you deal with cancer when it’s metastasized? You must do a complete and lethal cleanse. So, I would say the world must take a stand and say, “We’ll close down Venezuela completely and do something on a determined time and date. You have two, three days, or a month to stop this, otherwise, we’ll go in and take you all out.”
Diálogo: What will Venezuela’s future be like?
Simonovis: Thirty years ago no one would have imagined that Colombia would be the power it is today. It’s a prosperous country, a country with educated people, a country with technology. Yet it’s not a rich country, because Colombia isn’t rich. We have on our side the opportunity to escape from the main crisis in a prudent, reasonable time frame, very quickly. In three years Venezuela will be out of this. Then there’s a process of education that will take about 20 years. But you must do it, and you must return to the principles and morals. All that must involve society, the police, politicians, everything. I think this is something achievable, as long as you have the right leaders in place, the good ones, and that Venezuelan citizens really understand that stealing, that being slick, doesn’t lead to anything. That’s the culture that must be worked on. It’s possible, as long as it gets done.