WASHINGTON – When the last rays of sunlight faded into the Caribbean Sea, the political refugee Iván Simonovis jumped against an island rendezvous with freedom.
Three weeks earlier, he had fled house arrest, rappelling a 75 foot meter wall in the night's death, and took a bolt cutter to his ankle monitor. Since then, he had frequently moved between secure houses to remain one step ahead of Nicolas Maduro's security forces.
It was a thorough plan with its reputation as Venezuela's most famous SWAT politician.
But then with freedom almost in sight Venezuelan crisis dealt with a final blow: The engine of his fishing boat drove out, choking on water and sediment clogged his tank, a growing problem in the once-rich OPEC nation, as its raw supply fades and its refineries fall into disrepair. 1
"They are active members of the Maduro government, but they clearly work for the government of Juan Guaidó," said Simonovis, referring to the opposition leader recognized as Venezuela's president of the United States and more than 50 other nations.
In 2004, the former Caracas public security director was jailed over for what he insisted was false accusations of ordering police to open deadly fire on pro-government protesters who rushed to Hugo Chavez's defense under a shorter coup. Nineteen people were killed in a war force that broke out on a bypass.
Simonovis & # 39; s nearly ten-year long confinement in a windowless 6-foot-foot-cell after a trial mistreated by irregularities became a rallying war for the opposition, who regarded him as a scapegoat. His arrest warrant was signed by Judge Maikel Moreno, who, as a lawyer, had defended one of the pro-Chávez criminals involved in the warfare in 2004 and now heads the Supreme Court.
Likewise, Simonovis became a trophy for Chávez, who accused him of crimes against humanity – which he was never charged – and erected a memorial on the transition to those who died "defending the Bolivarian constitution."
Simonovis and the other police officers – five of whom were imprisoned – received 30-year sentences, the maximum allowed Venezuelan law to help kill.
Prosecutors were particularly serious because of Simonovis' ties to US law enforcement and reputation to be indestructible. He was catapulted to fame in 1998 by completing a seven-hour TV gossip standoff with a sniper's bullet. Then, as Security Director, he brought the former New York City police commissioner, William Bratton, to Caracas to help clean up the capital's buried police force and tackle exploding crime.
In the decade that followed his prison, Simonovis and the opposition tried countless ways to win their freedom: a hunger strike, appealing to presidential excuse, and even trying to drive to congress so he can receive parliamentary immunity.
In 2014, he was granted house arrest so he could seek medical help for 19 chronic diseases, some of them aggravated by the fact that he only received 10 minutes of sunlight a day.
In the aftermath of a failed military trial from April 30, which was called by Guaidó, Simonovis was hinted that he could soon come back behind bars. The security detail stationed permanently outside his home on a green street was increased from eight to 12 heavily armed agents when Maduro was named a hardline loyalist to lead the SEBIN intelligence police after the former head fled the country during the rebellion.
The only thing I knew is that I never went back to prison, "Simonovis said." So I made the decision to leave my home and my home country. "
Plotting the flight took weeks with a clear finish – USA
Leopoldo Lopez – Venezuela's most prominent political prisoner until he bolted house arrest even during the brief military rebellion and sought refuge in the Spanish ambassador's residence – worked his extensive political contacts to secure US support and two other foreign governments. 19659002] Among the tasks got permission to enter the US since Simonovis & # 39; Only identity document had expired a decade earlier.
He disappeared from his home in the night's death on May 16. Within a small bag he carried a flashlight, a pocket knife, a copy of his trial and a biography of American astronaut Neil Armstrong. "You can't sleep when you know the government is looking for you," he said.
t he fell into a dark alley, he failed and crashed high into an adjoining wall. But he recovered quickly and within 90 seconds was in the first of three cars that would lead him to an abandoned home.
"I approached this as a police attack, where every second is decisive," said Simonovis, who spent the nights before his flight cut off the fence behind his house and practices his descent on a staircase, anchors he had not used since the special forces training. "The speed at which you move is what guarantees your success so you have to move fast."
Once upon a time, Simonovis called his wife, Bony Pertnez, whom he had kept in the dark about his plans. She visited their children in Germany, who in the following days gave rise to rumors that he had also fled – speculation he sought to emerge.
When he was hunkered inside an abandoned home and then a foreign embassy – pointing to watching the movie "Argo", a political thriller reflecting his own escape – he instructed his wife to send family photographs and videos on social media to mislead the security forces in search of him to believe he had already fled the country.
Guaidó, who issued an excuse that Simonovis used to justify his flight, added to the plot. "He should have been freed many years ago, long ago. But today he is free," the opposition leader said on his flight.
During the tense drive to the starting point of the fishing boat, several national guarding points had to be negotiated so Simonovis traveled in a cleanup Toyota squeezed between two other cars if he were to drive for it.
Finally, they arrived at a remote area of Venezuela's coast with few hiccups. Then, what was to be a short sea crossing to an island turned into a 14 hour trial when the boat's engine failed.
For fear of exposing the more than 30 people who helped him escape and who remained in danger, Simonovis declined to identify the island or say how, or exactly when he came there, when the boat began to operate. Earlier this month, one of his lawyers was arrested after talking to journalists outside Simonovis' home and being imprisoned in the same Caracas prison, where Simonovis was merged with dozens of opposition activists.
The next day, a chartered jet picked him up. Flying across the Bahamas to the United States airspace, the pilot allowed the transfer to Simonovis, a successful pilot himself.
"I landed my own freedom," he said, recalling that he had also been carried away on a plane 15 years earlier, after his arrest. "But this time I was in control of my own destiny."
Now, when he regains his life, he will back off using his law enforcement background to help US authorities investigate corruption, drug trafficking and alleged relations with terrorist groups of Venezuelan officials. He also seeks to help Guaidó develop a plan for improving urban security if he takes power. In Washington, he plans to meet with several US lawmakers to push for more action against Maduro.
He recalls the time lost with a mix of grief and gratitude as he steps out to buy a coffee – a simple task long denied him.
"When you are a prisoner … you depend on someone else for everything – to eat, dress for medicine," he said. "I paid for something the other day, and I couldn't understand the person who spoke to me, not because of English, but because I was so focused on what happened."
"Right now I am overwhelmed by my freedom. But it feels good. It is the natural state of man."
Meanwhile, he hopes his journey will inspire other Venezuelans to continue and rise against Maduro.
"There comes a moment when you have to risk it all," Simonovis said, blowing up the summer breeze under the shadow of the Washington Monument.
"When I left my home there were two possible results: Either I lose everything or I win my freedom," he said. "But if I had stayed, I simply had immersed in a sea of despair."
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