WASHINGTON — Josh Holt, an American who had been held as a prisoner in Venezuela since the summer of 2016, is back on US soil.
President Donald Trump announced on Saturday morning that Holt had been released from prison in Venezuela and was expected to land in D.C. in the evening. At 6:50 p.m., Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah tweeted that the plane carrying Holt, a Utah native, and his wife, Thamy, had landed in Washington.
Shortly afterward, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said in a statement that his office helped secure Holt’s release, posted a video to Twitter showing Holt reuniting with his family.
The U.S. “offered nothing” to Venezuelan leadership in exchange for the release of Holt, two White House National Security Council officials told CNN.
Holt traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Venezuelan Thamara Caleño, according to news reports. He was arrested shortly afterward and accused by the Venezuelan government of stockpiling weapons and attempting to destabilize the government, according to The Washington Post. Holt was held for nearly two years without standing trial.
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. The couple, joined by Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, flew back to the US on Saturday afternoon.
Trump tweeted a second time Saturday, saying, “Looking forward to seeing Joshua Holt this evening in the White House. The great people of Utah are Celebrating!”
Aides were asked to prepare for Trump to deliver a statement on Holt’s release sometime Saturday night from the White House, a White House official told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny. The details were still being worked out, the official said.
“We’re grateful to all who participated in this miracle,” Holt’s family said in a statement.
“Over the last two years I’ve worked with two Presidential administrations, countless diplomatic contacts, ambassadors from all over the world, a network of contacts in Venezuela, and President Maduro himself, and I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family in Riverton,” Hatch said in a statement earlier on Saturday.
“I want to thank (Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Chairman Bob Corker for his pivotal efforts, and that of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their help in this effort. 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.
“I am pleased to join Senator Hatch and President Trump in announcing the release of Josh and Thamy Holt,” Corker said in a statement. “Senator Hatch has worked tirelessly on the Holt family’s behalf, and I was honored to play a small role in bringing Josh and his wife home to the United States. I also would like to thank Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo and his team at the State Department for all that they have done.”
Other members of Congress expressed their elation over Holt’s release. Love tweeted, “After nearly 2 years, Josh Holt is finally coming home! Thanks to @realdonaldtrump and others who I’ve had the pleasure to work with to secure Josh’s freedom. #justiceforjosh #utpol.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, praised Hatch for working “tirelessly to bring this innocent young man & his bride home.”
“Josh & Thamy Holt had nothing to do with internal politics in #Venezuela,” Rubio tweeted.
Holt’s release comes more than a week after he posted videos to Facebook during a prison riot, pleading for help from Americans and the US government. 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.”