World News

U.S. citizen held in Venezuela released, Trump announces

Posted May 26, 2018 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated May 26, 2018 5:42 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Saturday morning that an American who had been imprisoned in Venezuela for two years without a trial is on his way home to the United States and will be reunited with his family at the White House Saturday evening.

Trump made the announcement about Joshua Holt, the Utah man who has been in a Caracas jail since 2016, on Twitter, calling him a “hostage,” and saying the release will make the people of Utah happy.

“Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela,” Trump wrote. “Should be landing in D.C. this evening and be in the White House, with his family, at about 7:00 P.M. The great people of Utah will be very happy!”

Holt, 26, had traveled to Venezuela in 2016 to marry a woman he met on the internet. But he was arrested shortly after and accused by the government in Venezuela of stockpiling weapons.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said that Holt’s release, and that of his wife, Thamy Holt, was the result of a two-year effort working with Trump and former President Barack Obama, and Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela.

“I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family,” Hatch said in the statement.

Hatch also thanked Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Maduro on Friday.

Joshua Holt’s release comes just days after he posted two short videos to Facebook pleading for the U.S. government to help him. In one video, he said: “I’ve been begging my government for two years. They say they’re doing things but I’m still here.”

Freeing Holt appeared to be a step to try to lower tensions between Washington and Venezuela.

Maduro was declared the winner of an election Sunday, which many countries said was undemocratic. The United States issued an even harsher assessment, calling the election a “sham,” and imposing new economic sanctions on the country’s businesses.

The following day, Maduro expelled the two top diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, accusing them of conspiracies against Maduro’s government.

In addition to the gesture to the United States with the release of Holt, there were indications Maduro was loosening his hold on some Venezuelan prisoners as well.

Earlier in the week, in a speech before the country’s Constituent Assembly, Maduro told officials that many who took part in protests last year and had committed “political violence” still remained behind bars, something he wanted to change.

“I want these people to go free — and that they’re offered a chance for national reconciliation,” he said.

Alfredo Romero, the head of a group that represents Venezuelan political prisoners, said at least 20 people were released Friday in the state of Zulia, after protesting there earlier this year over a lack of electricity.

Omar Mora, a Venezuelan lawyer representing political prisoners, said the recent releases sidestepped the fate of the more than 450 politicians and activists, by his count, who remain jailed because the government continues to see them as a threat.

“The government pretends to release people, and in the end it doesn’t release any of the political prisoners who are on our lists,” Mora said.