Trump welcomes 'overwhelmed' man held in Venezuela

By Allen Cone  |  Updated May 28, 2018 at 8:14 AM
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May 27 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump welcomed home to the United States an "overwhelmed with gratitude" Josh Holt, who was held captive as a prisoner in Venezuela since 2016.

On Saturday night, Trump met with Holt and his wife Thamy in the Oval Office after flying back from Venezuela.

"I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude for you guys, for everything that you've done; for the support of my wife through those two years," Holt said. "They were a very, very, very difficult two years. Not really the great vacation that I was looking for. But we're still together. Starting off a marriage rough, but now we're going to be together.

Trump said: "It's, really, very special to have you both. You've gone through a lot. You've gone through a lot -- more than most people could endure."

Holt is a native of Utah.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had helped secure Holt's release. He posted a video to Twitter showing Holt reuniting with his family at Dulles International Airport.

Trump also thanked Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love of Utah -- all Republicans. Corker flew back to the United States with the couple and Thamy's daughter from a previous marriage.

"I have to tell you. That was a tough situation," Trump said. "But we've had 17 released, and we're very proud of that record. Very proud. And we have others coming. We're in the midst of some very big negotiations to get others out. In most cases, they're Americans, but we can try and help other countries too, where there's injustice. So we've been working very hard on it."

On May 10 at Andrews Air Force Back, Trump welcomed three Americans detained in North Korea.

"As you know, in North Korea, we just had a very great success," Trump said. "We have three wonderful people -- Americans -- that were released just recently. And they're now home, safe with their families."

On Saturday, Trump announced that Holt had been released from prison in Venezuela.

Holt, 26, and his wife were freed overnight Saturday and released to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, according to Foro Penal, a human rights organization of lawyers and others who assist political prisoners in Venezuela.

For the exchange of Holt, the United States "offered nothing" to Venezuelan leadership, two White House National Security Council officials told CNN. Trump didn't answer a question whether Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had gotten anything in exchange for the release.

The Venezuelan government said the couple were freed in a goodwill gesture to the United States.

In June 2016, Holt traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Venezuelan Thamara Caleno. He met her online while seeking Spanish-speaking Mormons who could help him improve his Spanish.

Shortly afterward he was arrested and accused by the Venezuelan government of stockpiling weapons and attempting to destabilize the government. He didn't have a trial.

"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 in a statement earlier Saturday.

Trump said Holt was inside the Helicoide prison during a rebellion against guards last week.

"It was a horrifying, horrifying week," Laurie Holt, who is Josh's mother said. "And she [Love] got me through it, with Senator Hatch. I just -- Senator Hatch's office, I cannot tell you how much I love all of your staff. So thank you, thank you.

"And I also want to say thank you to President Maduro for releasing Josh and letting him come home."

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