A Utah man who has spent the last two years in a Venezuelan jail has been reunited with his family and taken to meet President Donald Trump after his release on Saturday.
Joshua Holt, 26, was arrested on weapons charges nearly two years ago, after going to Venezuela in 2016 to marry a woman he met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him learn the language.
Speaking to the President on Saturday night, Holt told a group of politicians and family inside the Oval Office it had been a ‘very very difficult two years’.
‘Not really the great vacation I was looking for,’ he joked.
The 26-year-old said he was ‘so grateful for what you guys have done and thinking about me and caring about me’.
Freed Venezuelan prisoner Josh Holt, 26, met President Trump on Saturday after his administration arranged for him to be released back to the US
Holt had gone to Venezuela to meet a woman he had met online when the pair were arrested. Holt’s Venezuelan wife and her daughter were also brought back to the US
The President said Holt was the 17th prisoner released during his administration, but noted Holt’s case was ‘a tough one’.
‘I just want to welcome you to the Oval Office, welcome you to the White House,’ he told the 26-year-old.
‘You’ve gone through a lot, more than most people could endure.’
Holt’s Venezuelan wife, Thamara, was arrested alongside him, but was also freed on Saturday and brought to the US with her daughter. Thamara was told in the Oval Office the US was now ‘her country’.
Video taken earlier on Saturday shows Holt crumble into his mother’s arms as they are finally reunited, and the pair stay holding each other for some time, while Thamara and her daughter embrace Holt’s father.
Joshua Holt, who has been imprisoned on weapons charges in Venezuela for nearly two years, was reunited with his parents on Saturday
His parents were seen greeting him and his wife Thamara, and her daughter in an emotional video shared to social media by a Senator who spent years fighting for his release
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said after two years of hard work, Holt would soon be reunited with his ‘sweet long-suffering family’, and was there when he finally was.
‘We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle,’ Joshua Holt’s family said in an earlier statement.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter to share his excitement. ‘Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela. The great people of Utah will be very happy!’ he wrote.
Coming home: Joshua Holt, his wife Thamara and her daughter, board a plane at the airport in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday. Holt and his wife, who also jailed, were reunited with her daughter from a previous relationship at Caracasí airport where the three boarded a jet to DC
Holt was Jailed in Venezuela on weapons charges nearly two years ago but was released Saturday after a U.S. senator pressed for his freedom in a surprise meeting with President Nicolas Maduro
President Trump tweeted early this morning about Joshua Holt’s return to America
President Donald Trump tweeted that it was ‘good news,’ adding that Holt ‘should be landing in D.C. this evening and be in the White House, with his family, at about 7:00 P.M
Their release came after Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, on Friday, two days after the embattled socialist leader kicked out the top U.S. diplomat in the country.
His release was the outcome of months of secret, back channel talks about Holt between one of the senator’s aides and close allies of the Venezuelan president.
But Holt’s release looked unlikely a week ago, when he made an emotional plea for Americans’ help in getting him out of the Caracas jail, saying in a clandestinely shot video that his life was threatened during a riot in the country’s most-notorious prison.
In retaliation, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, a powerful ally of Maduro, said on state television that Holt was the CIA’s top spy in Latin America.
Holt had planned to spend several months in Caracas in the summer of 2016 with his new wife, Thamara Caleno, and her two daughters, to secure their visas so they could move with him to the U.S.
Venezuelan Minister of Communication Jorge Rodriguez delivers statements in Caracas confirming the release of US citizens Joshua Holt and his wife Thamara
Earlier this month, Holt, a US citizen and former Mormon missionary, looked distressed while posting about riots at the Helicoide detention centre in Venezuela
Instead, the couple was arrested at her family’s government housing complex on the outskirts of Caracas.
Authorities arrested him on June 30, 2016, and accused him of stockpiling an assault rifle and grenades, suggesting his case was linked to other unspecified U.S. attempts to undermine Maduro’s rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.
His wife also was jailed on allegations of being Holt’s accomplice.
They had been held in a notorious Caracas prison run by the secret police that’s also home to dozens of Maduro’s top opponents who have been jailed during the past few years of political unrest in the country.
Their trial was set to begin this month after repeated delays that led the Trump administration to question the motives for his detention, although until Trump’s tweet Saturday, the U.S. had stopped short of publicly calling Holt a ‘hostage.’
US President Donald Trump says Venezuela has freed an American being held ‘hostage’ and he should arrive back in Washington on Saturday evening
It’s not clear if Holt’s release portends a thawing of relations between the two normally hostile governments. The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela for Maduro’s decision to go forward with presidential elections last week that the U.S. has called a ‘sham.’
The Maduro government has yet to comment on the reasons for the release.
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, who has Trump’s ear on Latin America, said the couple’s ‘release will in no way change U.S. policy towards the dictatorship in Venezuela.’
Holt and his wife were believed to be at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas awaiting transportation to Washington in a chartered flight.
The U.S. government at first avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela amid already strained relations between the two countries, but eventually raised Holt’s case to the highest levels of the Venezuela government.
Hatch and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, also lobbied on behalf of Holt and decried his poor treatment in prison.
Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Josh at her Utah home – taken in July 2016
His wife Thamara Candeloalso was also jailed on allegations of being Holt’s accomplice
Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, said all along that her son and his wife were wrongly accused.
She worked feverishly to bring attention to her son’s incarceration, hosting rallies, fundraisers and doing media interviews.
Laurie Holt said her son has suffered numerous health problems in jail, including kidney stones and respiratory problems.
He was depressed and at one point lost so much weight that he dropped several pant sizes, she said.
In their statement, the Holt family said, ‘We thank you for your collaboration during this time of anguish.
We ask that you allow us to meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle.’
During Trump’s meeting with Holt, he announced he was still planning to meet Kim Jong-Un on June 12 in Singapore.