Report: Trump Taking ‘Personal Interest’ in American Hostage Imprisoned in Venezuela

FILE - In this July 13, 2016 file photo, Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Joshua Holt at her home, in Riverton, Utah. At a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, attorney Jeanette Prieto said Holt was stripped naked and made to perform exercises in a hallway. She …
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

As the one-year anniversary of his arrest on charges largely considered falsified approaches, American hostage Joshua Holt continues to languish in a Venezuelan prison. His family, the Miami Herald reports this week, says he has grown “depressed and angry,” losing weight as his health deteriorates in prison.

The Herald notes that President Donald Trump, who has prioritized the liberation of U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad during his tenure, has taken a “personal interest” in the matter, according to an unnamed official. The U.S. government has yet to decisively act in Holt’s case, however.

Holt, a former Mormon missionary, traveled to Venezuela to marry a woman he had met online, Thamara Caleño, shortly after completing his mission. The couple enjoyed a short life of freedom together before both were arrested and accused of “espionage” on behalf of the U.S. government. Police “found” a small weapons arsenal in their apartment, which eyewitnesses say they saw police carrying into the apartment before entering it to make the arrest.

Holt’s family have been petitioning the U.S. government to help free their son since the arrest, but the case has not made progress. The United States and Venezuela, a socialist dictatorship, do not enjoy full diplomatic relations.

“He’s very depressed and angry. He has no hope whatsoever that he will ever be free from there,” mother Laurie Holt told the Miami Herald this week, adding that Holt has told his family to “forget about him” in letters from prison. Holt’s case has been postponed numerous times and his family has expressed concern that escalating tensions between the government of socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro and the United States will continue to limit his ability to defend himself legally.

A CBS News report in May noted that the Holt family has spent over $30,000 in legal fees, even as Venezuela refuses to give Holt his day in court. While noting her anxiety and emotional strain in the matter, Laurie Holt told CBS News that she felt the Trump administration “knows,” and CBS describes the family as feeling a “sense of relief” with President Trump in the White House.

In November, Laurie and husband Jason Holt published a column in the Washington Post criticizing the Obama administration for not acting to free Joshua or eliminate the complex bureaucratic hurdles that families of U.S. citizens held hostages abroad must overcome to help their loved one. “The families who have the most access and most success with our own government are those who understand how to work the system,” they lamented, adding that Holt appeared to be suffering torture in prison and refused the freedom to practice his religion.

Holt had reportedly lost 50 pounds in prison by November 2016 and suffered from “pneumonia, bronchitis and a blood infection,” according to his mother.

Last month, the Washington Post argued that the Trump administration had a unique opportunity to lead in the liberating of Americans held hostage abroad, listing Holt’s case alongside a handful of Americans imprisoned in Iran, as well as the four Americans imprisoned in North Korea. Both North Korea and Iran are allies of the Venezuelan regime, and both have demanded ransoms for U.S. citizens. The Obama administration paid the Iranian regime $400 million before Tehran released five U.S. hostages, incidents both sides claimed were unrelated.

In November, Venezuelan media reported that Laurie Holt had told national outlets that Caracas had demanded $10,000 in exchange for her son.