Venezuela frees American couple facing espionage charges

Sergio Conner
May 29, 2018

Within hours of being freed from a Venezuelan jail, Mr. Holt, a 26-year-old Mormon missionary from Utah, was in the Oval Office shaking hands with President Trump on Saturday.

On Saturday night, Trump met with Holt and his wife Thamy in the Oval Office after flying back from Venezuela.

"I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude", Holt said in the meeting with Trump. "They were a very, very, very hard two years". "It really touches me", he said, his voice breaking. Starting off a marriage rough, but now we're going to be together. "You've been incredibly fearless". "You've gone through a lot".

Holt, 26, of Utah thanked the president and all the government officials who worked to get him out. Hatch issued a statement on Twitter saying Holt's release followed two years of lobbying and that Holt's wife Thamy would be accompanying him home.

Josh Holt arrived at the Salt Lake City airport Monday to a tearful, cheering crowd holding signs in his favorite color, green, with messages such as: "We never gave up".

Trump also thanked Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love of Utah - all Republicans. Bob Corker of Tennessee as they flew back to the United States on Saturday afternoon.

"You were a tough one", Trump told Holt.

Earlier, NSC officials told CNN's Boris Sanchez that the USA "offered nothing" to Venezuelan leadership in exchange for the release of Holt.

Holt and his wife were freed overnight and released to the US Embassy in Caracas, according to Foro Penal, a human rights organization of lawyers and others who assist political prisoners in Venezuela. We're in the midst of some very big negotiations to get others out. "So we've been working very hard on it". The President also took the opportunity to highlight the release of other Americans held prisoner overseas, including the recent release of three Americans who had been detained by North Korea. "You've been incredibly fearless", he said. "We have three wonderful people - Americans - that were released just recently".

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted just as Holt's plane landed that he was "very glad that Josh Holt is now back home with his family - where he has always belonged" but added sanctions against the country wound "continue until democracy returns to Venezuela".

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On Saturday, Trump announced that Holt had been released from prison in Venezuela.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A secret backchannel led by a veteran Republican Senate staffer and a flamboyant Venezuelan official nicknamed "Dracula" broke through hostile relations between the two governments to secure the release of American prisoner Joshua Holt, who traveled to the South American country for love and ended up in jail, without a trial, for two years.

For the exchange of Holt, the United States "offered nothing" to Venezuelan leadership, two White House National Security Council officials told CNN.

In televised comments earlier this month, the No. 2 official in Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, described Holt as "the head of US espionage in Latin America" and said that he would remain behind bars.

Holt was arrested on weapons charged during a trip to Venezuela to marry a woman he'd met on a website to practice Spanish.

Shortly after they married, the couple was arrested by the Venezuelan intelligence service Sebin, and accused of possessing weapons and plotting to destabilize the Maduro government.

A White House statement issued later thanked the "Maduro regime for releasing the unjustly detained United States citizen", but insisted USA pressure would continue until Venezuela holds fresh presidential elections.

The former Venezuelan minister of the interior and justice, Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, declared at the time that Holt and Caleno were found in possession of an AK-47 assault rifle, a fake M4 rifle, an MK2 grenade, ammunition and espionage equipment. "I want to particularly thank Caleb McCarry, whose expertise and effort in Venezuela on my behalf has been instrumental in bringing Josh home", he said, referring to an aide of Corker's.

"Josh had posted videos and pled for help so Senator Hatch made one final plea directly to President Maduro that set wheels in motion", Whitlock wrote in an email to Reuters.

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