Nearly two years ago, an American citizen went to Venezuela to marry a Venezuelan woman he had met online. Things didn't exactly go as planned, and now that man is coming home — after spending most of that time in a Venezuelan prison. Josh Holt, the American citizen jailed in Venezuela, has finally been reunited with his family, CNN reported.
Before going home to Utah, though, President Trump invited him to the White House. "You've gone through a lot, more than most people could endure," Trump said to Holt, according to CNN.
"I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude for you guys for everything that you've done," Holt responded.
According to the Washington Post, Holt, a former Mormon missionary, met his eventual wife Thamara Caleño, another Mormon, online. The two met in the Dominican Republic and then went to Venezuela to get married, with plans of later moving to the U.S., along with Caleño's two children. However, the Venezuelan government claimed that Holt was working with "Los Sindicalistas," a paramilitary gang. The government claimed Holt and Caleño were gathering weapons for the gang, and that a raid of the couple's apartment in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas found a stockpile of dangerous weaponry.
According to the Deseret News, Venezuelan authorities referred to Holt as "the gringo" and said that he was a "trained gunman." The Washington Post added that the authorities' proof of the latter claim were pictures on his Instagram account that depicted him with his gun collection.
"Under different facades, the secret services of the United States are seeking to achieve goals in an unconventional war through interventionist actions that stimulate the formation of criminal paramilitary gangs in housing complexes," Venezuelan Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez said in July 2016, according to Deseret News. Holt, he was claiming, was part of this "secret services" plot.
According to Deseret News, Holt's mother Laurie Holt said in 2016 that she believed the weapons authorities found in the raid of his apartment had been planted there, and that the whole thing was a "big misunderstanding."
The Miami Herald wrote in 2016 that Holt had learned Spanish during his time as a Mormon missionary in Washington state, where he worked with immigrants from Latin America. At the time of his arrest, he and his wife were waiting in Caracas for an appointment with the American embassy to apply for visas for her and her children.
“He’s the type of person who was willing to spend two years of his life for a church, to promote God to the people and to take on this new family,” Jason Holt, Josh's father, told the Miami Herald. “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s a saint, is what he is.”
Now, thanks primarily to the work of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch along with the Trump and Obama administrations, according to the New York Times, Josh and Thamy Holt have both made it back onto American soil.
“It was not really the great vacation that I was looking for,” Holt said at the White House, after thanking all those who had been involved in getting he and Thamy freed, according to the Times. “But we’re still together, starting off a marriage rough, but now we are going to be together.”
According to Salt Lake City's KUTV, the couple spent their first night back in the States in the hospital. Holt, KUTV said, had not been kept in good health while he was in the Venezuelan prison, but he was at least able to attend the White House meeting without any issues. Once he and Thamy have been cleared, they'll be headed home to Utah.