Monday, 22 October, 2018

Trump welcomes American missionary who was held in Venezuelan prison

American Citizen Held in Venezuela Released, Trump Announces American 'hostage' Josh Holt has been released from Venezuela, Trump says
Jay Anderson | 29 May, 2018, 15:26

Venezuelan officials released Holt on Saturday after high-level talks between President Nicolas Maduro and US lawmakers. His family says Holt was framed on the weapons charges and the United States accused Caracas of using him as a bargaining chip in sanctions talks.

Holt had a tearful reunion with his parents in Washington but has yet to see his three siblings. A few hours later President Donald Trump welcomed them to the White House. When the once-unimaginable voyage resumed Holt had a big smile on his face, Corker told Trump in an Oval Office meeting Saturday night surrounded by the Utah man and his family.

He also joked that serving time in Venezuela was "not really the great vacation that I was looking for". "I'm just so grateful for what you guys have done and for thinking about me, and caring about me, just a normal person". "More than most people could endure".

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

Holt, a former Mormon missionary, had traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Candelo.

The talks were encouraged by Pompeo, who met privately with Corker on Thursday morning and finalized details of the senator's trip ahead of testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department budget.

Photos show Sen. Bob Corker at Holt's side, helping carry a large black duffel bag. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love of Utah. The lawmakers thanked Trump for his support.

At the meeting in the White House on Saturday, Trump called Holt "incredibly brave". "We are on our way home", Corker tweeted.

When he departed the Caracas airport earlier in the day, Mr Holt said the ordeal had left him "exhausted". Police arrested the couple after finding an assault rifle and grenades during a raid on a housing complex where the couple lived.

Earlier in May, Holt 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. Their trial was set to begin this month after repeated delays that led the Trump administration to question the motives for his detention. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., according to several senior US officials.




Speculation swirled that the government was demanding an all-but-impossible prisoner exchange for Flores' two nephews, who in 2016 were convicted in NY of drug trafficking, after it was learned that a government-connected Venezuelan tycoon was paying Holt's legal fees as well as those of the men branded the "narco-nephews".

Mr Holt was jailed and branded the CIA's top spy in Latin America after travelling to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry Spanish-speaking Mormon Thamara Caleno in the country. Restatements of demands for his release were issued by senior U.S. politicians, and Todd Robinson, then the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, showed up at Venezuela's Foreign Affairs Ministry in Caracas to demand information about his safety. The statement also called the recent elections "illegitimate" and urged the release of all political prisoners.

The Trump administration tightened financial sanctions on cash-strapped Venezuela after the vote.

The diplomacy succeeded despite tense relations between the USA and Venezuela, with the Trump administration slapping increasingly severe sanctions on the socialist regime.

Corker on Friday met personally with President Nicola Maduro.

"It was a horrifying, horrifying week", Laurie Holt, who is Josh's mother said. "I need your help to get me out of this place", Holt said in the video.

"We hope this gesture strengthens dialogue and respect toward our independence", Venezuela's Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said of Holt's release in comments broadcast on state television.

They also ask to be allowed to meet Holt and his wife before making any public statements.

In a statement, Holt's relatives gave thanks "to all who participated in this miracle".

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