After 15 years as a political prisoner of Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship, Ivan Simonovis was able to make a daring escape.
How Venezuela’s most famous SWAT cop escaped house arrest
Iván Simonovis defied house arrest by rappelling down a 75-foot wall and escaped after 15 years of detention.
As the last rays of sunlight faded into the Caribbean Sea, political fugitive Iván Simonovis was speeding toward an island rendezvous with freedom.
Three weeks earlier he had fled house arrest, rappelling down a 75-foot (25-meter) wall in the dead of night, then took a bolt cutter to his ankle monitor. Since then he had been furtively moving between safe houses to stay one step ahead of Nicolas Maduro’s security forces.
It was a meticulous plan befitting his reputation as Venezuela’s most famous SWAT cop.
But then, with freedom almost in sight, Venezuela’s crisis dealt one final blow: The motor on his fishing boat conked out, choking on water and sediment clogging its gas tank, a growing problem in the once-wealthy OPEC nation as its crude supply dwindles and its refineries fall into disrepair.
“Nobody would’ve guessed that in Venezuela a motor would fail because of the gasoline,” the 59-year-old Simonovis told The Associated Press in his first comments since resurfacing Monday in Washington after five weeks on the run.
That Simonovis can laugh about his ordeal is as much a testament to his jailers’ incompetence as his own bravery. To date, there’s been no official reaction to his escape after 15 years’ detention — a possible sign that Maduro is too embarrassed to acknowledge his lack of control over his own security forces, some of whom helped Simonovis gain freedom.
“They are active members of the Maduro government, but quietly they work for the government of Juan Guaidó,” Simonovis said, referring to the opposition leader recognized as Venezuela’s president by the U.S. and more than 50 other nations.
In 2004, the former Caracas public safety director was imprisoned on what he insists were bogus charges of ordering police to open deadly fire on pro-government demonstrators who rushed to Hugo Chávez’s defense during a short-lived coup. Nineteen people were killed in a gunfight that broke out on a downtown overpass.
Simonovis’ nearly decade-long confinement in a windowless 6-foot-by-6-foot (2-by-2-meter) prison cell after a trial marred by irregularities became a rallying cry for the opposition, which viewed him as a scapegoat. His arrest order was signed by Judge Maikel Moreno, who as a lawyer had defended one of the pro-Chávez gunmen involved in the 2004 gunfight and who now heads the Supreme Court.
Similarly, Simonovis became a trophy for Chávez, who accused him of crimes against humanity — for which he was never charged — and erected a memorial on the overpass to those who died “defending the Bolivarian constitution.”
Simonovis and the other police defendants — five of whom remain jailed — were given 30-year sentences, the maximum allowed by Venezuelan law, for complicity to murder.
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