U.S. Prisoner, Native of Idaho, Released by Venezuelan Government

U.S. Prisoner, Native of Idaho, Released by Venezuelan Government

U.S. Prisoner, Native of Idaho, Released by Venezuelan Government

WASHINGTON (AP) - A secret backchannel led by a veteran Republican Senate staffer and a flamboyant Venezuelan official nicknamed "Dracula" broke through hostile relations between the two governments to secure the release of American prisoner Joshua Holt, who traveled to the South American country for love and ended up in jail, without a trial, for two years.

Shortly after they married, however, the couple was arrested by the Venezuelan intelligence service Sebin, and accused of possessing weapons and plotting to destabilize the Maduro government. He had planned to spend several months in Caracas that summer with his new wife and her two daughters, to secure their visas so they could move with him to the U.S.

"But on June 30, an anti-gang police squad burst into Candelo's apartment, where agents claimed to find an AK-47 assault rifle and a grenade".

Holt's release came as Maduro appears to be on a public relations offensive following the widely condemned elections last week, seeking to make gestures toward his global and domestic critics.

The freeing of the Mormon missionary from Utah came despite deepening US-Venezuelan tensions that in the last week saw tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, Washington's refusal to recognise the May 20 re-election of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and the imposition of new US sanctions on Caracas. In April, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had also met with Maduro to press Holt's release.

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Joshua Holt arrived Saturday evening at Washington Dulles International Airport.

President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday morning about Holt's return, saying he was looking forward to greeting him at the White House later that day. "The great people of Utah will be very happy!" In one video he said, "I've been begging my government for two years".

"You were a tough one!"

"As announced by the president, our son and his wife will be released today", read a family statement issued by Holt's lawyer in Venezuela, Carlos Trujillo.

It's not clear if Holt's release portends a thawing of relations between the two normally hostile governments. "I'm just so grateful for what you guys have done". I have NEVER done anything wrong in my life.

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As they sat side-by-side, Trump said Holt had gone through "more than most people could endure". "I also would like to thank Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo and his team at the State Department for all that they have done".

He was commenting after Holt, 26, and his wife Thamara Caleno, landed in Washington after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered their release after two years. "... There was "no quid pro quo or agreement to ease US sanctions tied to" his release".

He was arrested shortly after arriving in Venezuela almost two years ago.

"This type of gesture. allows us to consolidate what has always been our standpoint: dialogue, agreement, respect for our independence, respect for our sovereignty", Rodriguez said.

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