President Donald Trump announced Saturday morning that American prisoner Josh Holt has been released from prison in Venezuela.
“Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela,” Trump tweeted. “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, a Utah native, is a Mormon missionary who traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Venezuelan Thamara Caleño, a fellow Mormon, 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’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.”
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, were on a flight back to the US on Saturday afternoon.
A spokesperson for the Venezuelan government said in a statement, “The Judicial Power gave the corresponding benefit of full freedom to these two citizens who at this time are flying to the United States.”
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.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah announced his office helped secure Holt’s release. “I’m pleased to announce that after two years of hard work, we’ve secured the release of Josh and Thamy Holt, who are now on their way home to the United States from Venezuela,” Hatch said in a tweet.
“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.
“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.
Corker is traveling back to the United States with Holt and his wife after he went to Venezuela to win their release.
“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. US Rep. Mia Love, a Utah Republican, 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.