WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has welcomed to the White House an American held for two years in a Venezuelan jail, saying the Utah man has undergone a “very tough ordeal.”
Joshua Holt, 26, and his wife arrived Saturday evening at Washington Dulles International Airport. Venezuelan officials released the Holts after high-level talks between President Nicolás Maduro and U.S. lawmakers.
Sitting with Trump and other U.S. officials, Holt said he was “overwhelmed with gratitude” for those who worked for his release.
Holt, a Mormon missionary from Riverton, Utah, and his wife were jailed for nearly two years on weapons charges that U.S. officials consider bogus.
“Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela,” Trump tweeted earlier Saturday. “The great people of Utah will be very happy!”
Holt’s release comes a week after Maduro won re-election in what critics charged was a rigged election, and days after Maduro ordered the top American diplomat and his deputy expelled as “conspirators” against his government.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced the release of Holt, who went to Venezuela to marry a woman he met online.
“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,” Hatch said in a statement.
“I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family in Riverton,” Hatch said.
Venezuela held Holt and other U.S. citizens in the Helicoide political prison in Caracas, where inmates staged an uprising earlier this month. That prompted the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to express concern that Holt and other Americans in the prison might be in danger.
“I’ve been begging my government for two years. They say they’re doing things, but I’m still here,” Holt said on May 16 in a clandestine video posted to Facebook, one of several pleas to the U.S. government to free him, The Washington Post reported.