US & Canada

Joshua Holt: American held in Venezuela returns home to Utah

Grandmother hugs grandson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Malinda Holt (right) draped an American flag around her grandson's shoulders

A former US missionary and his wife have returned to Utah following their release from a Caracas prison where they were jailed for nearly two years.

Joshua Holt, who was arrested in 2016, landed in Salt Lake City on Monday to a crowd holding signs saying: "We never gave up" and "Let Freedom Ring".

Mr Holt and his Venezuelan wife, Thamy Caleno, were greeted by his grandmother and seven-year-old daughter.

The couple returned to the US on 27 May and met President Donald Trump.

Mr Holt and his wife were jailed in the Venezuelan capital city on charges of concealing weapons.

His family, friends and supporters celebrated the couple's homecoming on Monday with signs in Spanish and English and the Star Spangled Banner.

Malinda Holt, Mr Holt's grandmother, draped an American flag around her grandson's shoulders as onlookers sang the US national anthem.

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Image caption Mr Holt's parents (back), his wife Thamy (centre left), Mr Holt (centre right) and their daughter Marian (front right) at the Salt Lake City Airport

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Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Josh Holt (centre) reunites with his family in Utah
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The crowd of friends and family cheer for Mr Holt

Mr Holt briefly thanked his friends, family and supporters, and said he and his wife were exhausted, having gotten "maybe four hours of sleep in four days," according to the Associated Press.

On Saturday, Mr Holt and Ms Caleno returned to the US via Washington, DC, accompanied by Senator Bob Corker, who helped negotiate their release.

Mr Corker had held talks with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro the day before, but no details about the nature of the talks have been released.

The US had previously accused Venezuela of using Mr Holt as a bargaining chip towards changing Washington's sanctions policy on the country.

A spokesman for Mr Maduro said the couple's release was a "gesture" aimed at improving dialogue between Venezuela and the US.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Josh Holt met President Donald Trump in the Oval Office

Mr Holt's parents, Laurie and Jason Holt, were with their son when he met the president at the White House on Saturday.

Mrs Holt said her son is in good health, but that he is "not the same Josh that left".

"He just doesn't quite have that sparkle back yet in his eyes," Mrs Holt told the AP.

"He'll come back, I know he will. We just have to give him time."

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Image caption Nattalia, Mr Holt's other daughter, kisses him on the cheek at the airport

After meeting President Trump, Mr Holt said: "I'm just so grateful for what you guys have done, and for thinking about me, and caring about me, just a normal person."

Mr Holt had travelled to Caracas in June 2016 to marry Ms Caleno, also a Mormon, after the couple met online.

The couple intended that Ms Caleno and her children would move to the US with Mr Holt after the marriage, but they were accused of hiding weapons and detained at Ms Caleno's family's house in Caracas.

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