President Trump announced on Saturday that US citizen Josh Holt was released after two years in a Venezuelan jail. He had traveled there to marry a woman he met online.
Holt, a native of Utah, was released along with his current wife, Thamy, on Saturday after a statement by Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). Holt had been accused by Venezuelan officials of keeping arms and grenades in public housing, and his imprisonment had become a major focus in Caracas-Washington relations.
"For the past two years, I've worked with two presidential administrations ̵
Trump tweeted Saturday morning that Holt was due to arrive in Washington and meet his family in the White House at about 7 pm He later added in a tweet, "I am looking forward to seeing Joshua Holt at the White House tonight. Celebrating the Great People of Utah! "
" As announced by the President, our son and his wife are being dismissed today, and we thank you for your cooperation during this time of fear, "the Holt family said in a statement. "We ask that we meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and explanations, and we are grateful to all who participated in this miracle."
The release takes place in a shaky phase in the US-Venezuela relations and just days after the re-election of Maduro in a poll that was widely condemned as illegitimate. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Caracas on Friday and was shown shaking hands on state television with the president.
"It was a very good meeting, which is good news for the Venezuelan people," Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez told reporters, although he did not report on the meeting.
Corker's office did not respond to a request for comment, but Hatch thanked him for his "central effort," and Caleb McCarry, a Corker foreign minister, who accompanied Corker on the trip, the Associated Press said. Hatch was officially informed Friday that Holt's release was complete, an official familiar with the incident, and Corker maintained close contact with Hatch, who had talked to Maduro on Holt's situation several times in recent months.
"In the end, Corker was closer," the official said.
Analysts suggested that Holt's release was part of an offer to ease the rapidly eroding bilateral relations between Washington and Caracas. The US financial sanctions have been instrumental in bringing down the Venezuelan economy and it has been feared that the United States – the largest cash buyer of Venezuelan oil – would impose a potentially crippling embargo.
"As part of … peace and reconciliation presented by President Maduro, he ordered the liberation of American Joshua Holt and his wife," said Secretary of Communications Jorge Rodriguez in a press conference at the Presidential Palace.
The move also comes as Maduro seeks to increase his legitimacy following the election last week, when he won a new six-year term following an election that was internationally condemned as a fraudulent takeover. He tried to reach an opposition that he had largely excluded from participating in the vote, and engaged in dialogue with an economy he had demonized in the past.
Maduro "tries to see if his isolation can be partially reversed" Mariano de Alba, a Venezuelan lawyer specialized in international law. "It's a measure designed to somehow reduce tension."
A Mormon missionary from Utah, Holt – known in Venezuela as the "Gringo Agent" – became the ultimate example of an American in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was arrested by Venezuelan security forces in June 2016, days after he had married Venezuelan resident Thamara Caleño
Venezuelan officials accused him of being a US agent who set up a plan to destabilize Venezuela through the accumulation of explosives and rifles ,
Holt was thrown into Venezuela's notorious Helicoide Prison, filled with political prisoners claiming to have been tortured and detained without fair trials.
Both Holt and US officials have rejected all charges. On May 16, Holt released dramatic videos from his prison cell following a riot.
"I've been begging my government for two years, they say they're doing things, but I'm still here," a desperate Holt, 26, said in a video on his Facebook account – part of desperate messages, which aimed to urge the US government to liberate him as conditions in Venezuela worsened
His demands triggered high-level diplomatic maneuvers. Again, demands for his release were made by senior US politicians, and Todd Robinson, the then head of mission at the US Embassy in Caracas, appeared in the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry in Caracas to demand information about his safety.
The time, the Venezuelan authorities declined to receive him. Robinson told the media, "They did not want to talk to us, they said they had no information about what was happening."  On May 22, two days after Maduro's re-election, Robinson and US Vice President Brian Naranjo were arrested Expelled from the country in a sharp escalation of diplomatic tensions
"We will not allow the dark interests of capitalism, which are supported by the criminal gangs, to stifle the country's stability and peace," said Gustavo González López, who Maduro's Interior Minister, in 2016.
In addition to Holt, the US embassy in Caracas has said that other "Americans" are being held in jail, even though they have refused to provide details of their cases, citing data protection laws ,
Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela this report.