WASHINGTON — Joshua Holt, who traveled to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry a Spanish-speaking Mormon woman but soon found himself jailed and later branded the CIA’s top spy in Latin America, was set free by the anti-American Maduro government on Saturday, saying he was “overwhelmed with gratitude.”
Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, arrived Saturday evening at Washington Dulles International Airport for a tearful reunion with his parents, Laurie and Jason Holt. A few hours later President Donald Trump welcomed them to the White House.
“Those two years, they were a very, very, very difficult two years,” said an emotional Holt, sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office. “Not really the great vacation that I was looking for … I’m just so grateful for what you guys have done.”
To Holt, Trump said: “You’ve gone through a lot. More than most people could endure.”
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.”
Their release came one day after Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the Trump administration says runs a “dictatorship” and just won re-election in a “sham” vote.
Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a “hostage.” The U.S. contended Holt was held on trumped up charges.
Months of secret, backchannel talks between an aide to Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and close allies of Maduro preceded their return. Yet Holt’s release had seemed unlikely even a week ago.
Joining Trump in the Oval Officer were Corker, Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Utah Rep. Mia Love. The lawmakers thanked Trump for his support.
The White House learned from Corker on Friday of Holt’s impending release, according to a U.S. official who has closely followed Holt’s plight and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
Holt and his wife were reunited at the Caracas airport with her daughter from a previous relationship, and all three boarded a chartered flight to Washington. “We are on our way home,” Corker tweeted.
When he departed the Caracas airport earlier, Holt told The Associated Press that the ordeal had left him “exhausted.”
Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said their release was a goodwill gesture that followed months of dialogue between the Maduro government and U.S. lawmakers.