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Utah Man Freed in Venezuela            05/26 10:23

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Utah man jailed in Venezuela on weapons charges nearly 
two years ago was released Saturday after U.S. officials and his family pressed 
for his freedom from the South American country. "We are grateful to all who 
participated in this miracle," Joshua Holt's family said in a statement.

   President Donald Trump said Holt and his family were expected at the White 
House on Saturday evening. "Good news about the release of the American hostage 
from Venezuela. ... The great people of Utah will be very happy!" Trump said in 
a tweet.

   The 26-year-old Holt had gone to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry a woman he 
met online while he was looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him 
improve his Spanish. Holt's wife, Thamara, also was freed, said Sen. Orrin 
Hatch, R-Utah, who said Holt soon would be reunited with "his sweet, 
long-suffering family" in Riverton, Utah.

   Their release came after Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Venezuela's president, Nicolas 
Maduro, on Friday, two days after the embattled socialist leader kicked out the 
top U.S. diplomat in the country.

   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.

   The U.S. government at first avoided ratcheting up public pressure on 
Venezuela amid already strained relations between the two countries, but 
eventually raised Holt's case to the highest levels of the Venezuela 
government. Hatch and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, also lobbied on behalf of Holt and 
decried his poor treatment in prison.

   Holt had planned to spend several months in Caracas in the summer of 2016 
with his new wife, Thamara Candelo, and her and her two daughters, to secure 
their visas so they could move with him to the U.S.

   Instead, the couple was arrested at her family's government housing complex 
on the outskirts of Caracas. Authorities arrested him on June 30, 2016 and 
accused him of using his wife's apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons and 
suggesting his case was linked to other unspecified U.S. attempts to undermine 
President Maduro's rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.

   His wife also was jailed on allegations of being Holt's accomplice.

   Holt's mother, Laurie Holt, said all along that her son and his wife were 
wrongly accused. She worked feverishly to bring attention to her son's 
incarceration, hosting rallies, fundraisers and doing media interviews.

   Laurie Holt said her son has suffered numerous health problems in jail, 
including kidney stones and respiratory problems. He was depressed and at one 
point lost so much weight that he dropped several pant sizes, she said.

   In their statement, the Holt family said, "We thank you for your 
collaboration during this time of anguish. We ask that you allow us to meet 
with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are 
grateful to all who participated in this miracle."


(KA)

 
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