Spanish – Iván Simonovis is a legend. A walking mystery spawned by his visionary exploits as a police officer. Chávez never forgave him for his expertise and kept him as a hostage until, on May 16, 2019, Simonovis escaped from house arrest. Chavismo took away his freedom for more than fifteen years.
That is what he is now, a free man. And a man who is quite skilled and experienced in neutralizing criminals who kidnap people. The right man for the right time, you might say. As a result, on July 10, 2019, Venezuela’s interim President, Juan Guaidó, appointed him “special coordinator of security and intelligence of Venezuela to the United States.” In other words, given that Maduro will step down from power only if he is ousted through force, the responsibility of collaborating the structure of the final and definitive operation lies on Simonovis’s shoulders.
Now, Simonovis has played a crucial role in Juan Guaidó’s visit to the White House. He was a special guest of President Trump at his annual State of the Union address. Later, he managed to deliver a letter to Trump himself where he defined some points and set the tone: we have to go from the defensive position towards playing offense; in Venezuela, there are two Soleimanis (Cabello and El Aissami); and “to save Venezuela is to save the world.” Clearly. He has said it all.
In a conversation with the PanAm Post, Simonovis spoke about his letter, his meeting with Trump, his clarity despite the immense challenges, and the possibility that Chavismo will organize fraudulent elections in Venezuela and Juan Guaidó will decide not to participate.
“When you want to take down a drug trafficking network, the first thing you attack is its cash flow,” he told the PanAm Post.
I read your letter. It is pointed. You speak in concrete terms about what we have all wanted to hear for so long: moving from the defensive to playing offense. You speak clearly that the Maduro regime is a threat to the region because of its criminal links with terrorist groups. You assert that Diosdado is Soleimani. What you are practically proposing is to annihilate these guys. Is that right? What is the intention of the letter?
I will be honest with you: the initial intention of that letter was not to deliver it but to read it. And, given that it was a solemn, important event, and, well, with a personality like the President of the United States, the letter which is circulating is a guide to what I wanted to say. I was making sure I don’t miss anything.
What happened was that I was told there was no chance of me reading the letter and giving this speech. So I broke protocol, and when I was with President Trump, I simply went up to him and told him who I was and that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to tell him about my country. That I was a political prisoner. He paid absolute and undivided attention to everything I was saying. I had the paper in my hand. He held out his hand to me and asked me to give him the paper. That is why I gave it to him. And, in fact, what he has is a draft.
I had about three minutes with the President. After I spoke, he asked me some personal questions about the prison situation. Then he asked me about my country and expressed his total and absolute solidarity. He told me that I could always count on his and the United States’ support. That they would not rest until my country was free. That is the story of the letter.
When I ask you the intention, it is because, well, the letter has a harsh tone. And it mentions some things, perhaps quite explicitly. Do you think that the Venezuelan crisis can be solved only by force, or by the ability to build a force or a credible threat?
In the last year, all the steps taken on the financial matters have made a hugely significant dent in the regime’s operations. But that does not mean that they are not still functioning. They will have perhaps 25% maneuvering room to survive… But they are still breathing. And, since that is the case, I am talking about oxygen. We have to cut off the oxygen completely!
When you hear the expression, “cutting off the oxygen,” you are taking away everything that you need to go on living. So, for me, it is supremely important to cut off that oxygen to Chavismo.
I talk about it because, within the political schemes, the issue of military invasion is something much more serious and complicated. It involves a series of political decisions by various countries. It is not just a decision by the United States. We must be clear: at the time when the military issue will be concretely discussed, it is not only the United States’ decision. The bordering countries would have to be on board.
Like Colombia, Brazil. Of course.
Exactly. That is why I am talking about totally and utterly cutting off the oxygen. Ending that 25% that exists. There is a good chance.
You are speaking in economic terms, right?
Yes, yes. In economic terms. But, you see, any structure, whether it is called a business, criminal, or whatever, that allows this to persist, managed, or function, it is the financial issue — more than anything else. Hezbollah doesn’t support itself through prayers. The FARC does not support itself through slogans. They get involved in drug trafficking because they have to finance themselves. So, the regime, to maintain this complex food system called CLAP, etc., etc., needs oxygen.
But if these criminal groups like FARC and Hezbollah, which are on the fringe, contained in part, have managed to maintain this stability or financial profitability, why couldn’t Chavismo when it is a state itself? Chavismo could endure any attempt to be strangled. Isn’t it too naive to pretend that everything comes down to eliminating that financial oxygen?
Yeah. Look, you are right, I don’t mean to be naive about this. But it is the immediate step, which we can take tomorrow, and which does not need the consensus of all these countries. This is tomorrow.
Now, if we need to make even stronger decisions as we go along, they will have to be made. That is why I mention in the letter that we have to go from the defensive to playing offense. I am not saying that we should only cut back on all forms of sustenance to the regime. When you want to take down a drug trafficking network, the first thing you attack is its cash flow. That is the idea.
But ultimately, if we have two Soleimanis in Venezuela, guys like these get wiped out. Maybe bullets, missiles, or drones will eventually be necessary? Even if you try to isolate these criminals as much as possible, in the end, and I don’t know if you agree, force will be necessary.
Let me explain: I say that, first, everything has to do with the financial issue. Second, when I refer to this, I do so for two reasons: first, because I need to put on President Trump’s radar the level of the threat that these gentlemen represent; and I compare them with Soleimani because he had a lengthy criminal career; he became famous for his terrorist actions and the number of people he killed. Within the regime, there are two heads that are absolutely important; they are the ones that operate everything. And notice that I didn’t mention Maduro. One, Diosdado, because he is the oppressor par excellence, with all his military and intelligence apparatus. And Tareck El Aissami, because he is the one who maintains the cash flow so that all these groups exist, and they continue to breathe.
I speak from the level of importance, and I needed to use a simile to put it in context for the President: these guys are just as dangerous and pose just as much of a threat. The solution? Well, the solution can be many things. They say that Diosdado dressed up as a woman on April 11. I don’t know, but they say. And that he fled in an ambulance.
Just like they say, he peed in his pants on February 4.
Well, those are the stories. I don’t know. But, now, I don’t know if it is necessary to get to the point of Soleimani. I do not know if that is clear. Maybe because the day you knock on the door, these guys jump out the window.
I simply had to talk about the level of danger they represent. I had to make it clear that they are there, on this very continent, operating these activities, and ensuring the stability of the regime.
Okay. I think the comparison was very accurate because of what Soleimani meant to the American public. The contrast, I imagine, is expected to do that: to put the degree of the threat in context for the Americans. I think those are the right words, and that is why I celebrated it. Now, I imagine that you are aware that, when you speak in those terms, that not only contrasts but is counteracted by a proposed election with Nicolás Maduro.
I am a policeman. And when I am asked for my opinion, I give it from a professional point of view as a policeman. I can’t give a political opinion. Now, if Mr. Trump or President Guaidó, or Duque, or all of them, agree that it is best to go to an election first, well, that is an absolutely political decision.
I tell you that if we start to evaluate, and here I give an opinion only as a Venezuelan. Obviously, the decision of the elections seems to be the least traumatic and, therefore, the most desirable. Then I, as a Venezuelan, would say, “well, yes, of course.” But obviously, you have to go through some things first. We are talking about CNE, political freedom, freedom of expression, etc.
Look, I have no doubt, and this is perfectly clear. You know it: if tomorrow the CNE changes, they call an election, the conditions are right and Leopoldo, Maria Corina, Henrique Capriles and all these people who aspire to support the call, look, it is impossible for the regime to win, never again! But with all the guarantees that are needed. Now, are those guarantees going to be given? That is what I don’t know.
That is the big question. It is about guarantees and conditions. The problem is that there are no guarantees today. Instead, elections are the last resort…
A means to postpone the agony and achieve some stability. Do you see it that way? Do you see the elections as a maneuver of Chavismo?
Yes, yes, of course. I mean, there are talks about an election, but in their own way. That is not it. It is the style of democratic countries. Do you understand? Look, you saw President Trump in the SOTU speech. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was sitting behind him. And they are completely and utterly opposite people in all respects. But respect and considerations are inherent to democracy. Could that be done in Venezuela? No. We are not talking about democracy. And if that doesn’t exist, there is no election. That is when we have to go to the other plan, okay?
Now, I am absolutely clear and convinced – and this is what I try to say every time I speak – that enough is enough. I know. Time is up; it is all over. And now we have to see how we are going to solve this.
Is Juan Guaidó on the same page as you?
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
People think he isn’t. No, it is not that. He is obviously much more committed than I am to political conditions because he is the political leader. But he is clear and convinced that we must take a decisive step to oust the Maduro dictatorship and its surrounding support-system. And he is doing so.
Look, I understand the frustration. Things haven’t worked out the way we all want them to. But, I am telling you I admire many deputies. Living in Venezuela, being a parliamentarian, is not easy. The life that President Guaidó leads is not easy. To leave clandestinely, to be in an office and not know when the regime is going to initiate a raid. It is not an easy situation. And it also doesn’t allow you to focus on the things you need to focus on. You get distracted by the things the regime does to distract you.
I believe that efforts are being made, and I have discussed it with President Guaidó. He is perfectly clear and on the same page. The issue is this: what to do and how to do it. The what? Usually, the answer is easy. The problem is how.
In your letter, you also thank Leopoldo López. Is Leopoldo also on the same page as you?
Yes, of course. At the beginning of the letter, I write: “I am free thanks to my family, God, and Leopoldo López.” I would not have gotten out without Leopoldo López’s support. It would have been impossible. But he is totally aligned with what I am telling you.
Okay, good, good. And just to wrap up: do you see Guaidó participating in an election with Chavismo?
I don’t know. The truth is, I have no idea, and I have never asked him.
There is recurrent skepticism about what is said in private meetings. Obviously, you cannot tell me. But is the President really seeking to build a threat, that force, that coalition, or greater pressure, or is he instead selling the world a narrative that suits the political forces in Parliament?
President Guaidó speaks in the same tone as the letter I wrote in each and every meeting in which he participates.
That is good to hear.
I can even tell you that he starts his statements or his conversations like I finish the letter: “It’ s enough; it’ s time to act.”
Okay, okay. Can you vouch for that?
Yes, of course. Absolutely. Which doesn’t mean the interlocutor does it, of course. But Guaidó does say it.
Yes, well, that is what it is all about: delivering the message, persuading, convincing.
Lastly, what happened on the day of the State of the Union address? You were on the official guest list. However, we finally saw President Guaidó there.
I was the special guest. On the White House page, on the special guest list, it is me. Now, as a matter of protocol, it could be either him or me in that place where all the guests were.
I was finally in an adjacent room. All that happened anyway; I met with Trump. It is the same protocol every year with the special guests. But, well, in this case, well… The President is the President.
He enters through a different door than I do. He gets a different treatment than I get. That is the thing.