Utah man freed from Venezuelan jail after secret negotiations
by Leigh Jones
Posted 5/28/18, 08:22 am
President Donald Trump late Saturday welcomed to the White House a Utah man held without trial in a Venezuelan jail for two years. Venezuelan officials said they freed 26-year-old Joshua Holt in a goodwill gesture to promote dialogue and mutual respect between the two antagonistic governments. Holt had traveled to Caracas in 2016 to marry a fellow Mormon he met online while trying to improve his Spanish. Amid increasing tensions between the two countries, an unlikely duo negotiated through a secret backchannel to secure Holt’s release.
Caleb McCarry, a top Latin American policy aide for Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., led the talks with Rafael Lacava, the governor of central Venezuela’s Carabobo state, nicknamed “Dracula.” McCarry met secretly with Nicolas Maduro in February to talk about Holt, and Corker traveled to the country Saturday to seal the deal. The Trump administration insisted it didn’t offer Maduro anything in return for Holt’s freedom. But his surprise release came amid the U.S. government’s increasing sanctions on Venezuelan officials for human rights abuses and drug trafficking.
Alfredo Romero, a Venezuelan lawyer who represents opposition activists imprisoned with Holt, speculated Maduro agreed to release the American in hopes of currying favor with Republican lawmakers who might temper the Trump administration’s hardline approach. After McCarry returned from Venezuela earlier this year, Lacava traveled to Washington to meet with Corker and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., as well as Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. On Saturday, Holt expressed his gratitude for everyone who worked for his release. “Those two years, they were a very, very, very difficult two years," he said, sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office. Trump acknowledged Holt had gone through a lot: “More than most people could endure.”
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Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.