Published: Thu, May 31, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Trump says United States prisoner Josh Holt has been released in Venezuela

Trump says United States prisoner Josh Holt has been released in Venezuela

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump appears to confirm deal on Chinese firm ZTE Judge rejects Manafort's attempt to throw out some charges Dem: Trump's policy of separating children, parents at border "would shock Jesus" MORE tweeted Saturday about the "good news" of Holt's return, announcing that he would be invited to the White House Saturday night. It was "amazing that you were able to take it", Trump said of the 26-year-old.

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. A secret backchannel has opened up in 2018, between normally hostile Venezuelan and USA officials to discuss the possible release of Joshua Holt, jailed for more than 20 months in the volatile South American nation, multiple congressional sources have told the AP.

"We're very proud of that record and we have others coming", he said. "He's not a spy", he's a "totally innocent man".

Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a "hostage". "The great people of Utah are Celebrating!" Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Utah Rep. Mia Love.

A source familiar with the issue, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters there was no quid pro quo or agreement to ease USA sanctions tied to Holt's release, and that Trump was not involved in the final negotiations.

"Welcome you to the White House". US President Donald Trump made the announcement on Twitter, one day after US Senator Bob Corker met with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, the head of the country's Socialist Party. Senior US administration officials said the instruments had been used to garner much-needed revenue for the cash-starved regime.

Shortly after they married, the couple was arrested by the Venezuelan intelligence service Sebin, and accused of possessing weapons and plotting to destabilise the Maduro government. Holt's wife, Thamy, has also been released, Hatch said.

Analysts suggested Holt's release was part of a bid to ease the fast-eroding bilateral relations between Washington and Caracas.

The Maduro government has yet to comment on the reasons for the release.

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"We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle", Holt's family said in a statement.

"I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude for you guys for everything that you've done", Holt said in response, adding that it had been a "very, very hard two years", reports CNN.

Saturday's outcome, Hatch said, resulted from work across two presidential administrations and with diplomatic contacts, ambassadors and Maduro himself.

Months of secret, backchannel talks between an aide to Mr Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and close allies of Mr Maduro preceded their return.

He was held for almost two years in Venezuela without going on trial.

Maduro was re-elected to a six-year term last week, but the USA joins other countries in rejecting the outcome, widely seen as a result of vote-rigging.

More than 368 political prisoners are detained in Venezuela, according to the human rights organization Foro Penal, or Penal Forum.

After the presidential election in Venezuela last Sunday, the United States stepped up the diplomatic pressure against that country, which led to reciprocal expulsions of representatives of both countries.

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