Published: Tue, May 29, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

Venezuela releases United States citizen after two years in Caracas prison

Venezuela releases United States citizen after two years in Caracas prison

President Donald Trump pledged to soon bring home more Americans held overseas during a meeting at the White House with a US citizen imprisoned in Venezuela since 2016 who was released after pressure from Washington. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., traveled to Caracas on Friday and was shown on state television shaking hands with the president.

The Utah man's mother, Laurie Holt, thanked Trump and the lawmakers for her son's safe return, adding: "I also want to say thank you to President Maduro for releasing Josh and letting him to come home". After the flight landed, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said earlier in the day that his office helped secure Holt's release, posted a video to Twitter showing Holt reuniting with his family. "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!"

'We have good people working with us, and the folks in this delegation all very sincerely wanted to get Josh out of there, ' he said.

Venezuelan officials released Holt on Saturday after high-level talks between President Nicolas Maduro and USA lawmakers.

Holt, a Pocatello native, arrived at the White House with his wife, Thamy, who had also been imprisoned, shortly after flying back from Venezuela.

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After a May 20 election which Washington rejected as a "sham", US President Donald Trump tightened pre-existing sanctions against Maduro's regime.

Holt and his wife had been charged with espionage, violence and spreading activities against Venezuela's constitutional order, he said.

"They came back from a very tough ordeal in a Venezuelan prison nearly two years, Josh, and, you know, wonderful that you were able to take it", Trump said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "US policy toward Venezuela remains unchanged".

"Pastor Brunson, I hope you can hear us, we'll be helping you", Trump said.

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The U.S. promptly slapped new sanctions on the country, and Maduro expelled the top two American diplomats in Venezuela as payback. The U.S. contended Holt was held on trumped up charges.

"I can't deceive anybody, they are going to create grave difficulties, painful difficulties", he said.

In a statement, Holt's relatives gave thanks "to all who participated in this miracle". Maduro handed over Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, to Corker in what his government said was a goodwill gesture to promote dialogue and mutual respect between the two antagonistic governments.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month that a senior department official had urged Holt's release on humanitarian grounds.

The announcement came as a the Venezuelan government had appeared to be doubling down on claims that Holt was a US government agent.

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The US also refuses to recognise Maduro's re-election as president in a vote last week that was largely boycotted by the opposition.

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