Joshua Holt, an American citizen detained in Venezuela on charges his family and witnesses insist are false, has reportedly endured a long-term infection and received little medical care in the mall-turned-prison the socialist nation uses to torture political dissidents.
After having his preliminary hearing postponed for no reason five times, a Venezuelan judge ruled on Tuesday that Holt and his wife, Venezuelan national Thamara Caleño, would stand trial on charges of stockpiling illegal weapons, presumably to launch some sort of attack on the government of dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Holt’s legal team and family deny the charges; witnesses have told media outlets that they saw police enter the couple’s apartment and plant the weapons before staging a raid. Holt has been in prison without due process for nearly 18 months.
Holt’s family previously told media that Venezuelan government officials had asked for a $10,000 bribe to release him.
The Associated Press notes that Venezuelan socialist officials denied America’s top diplomat in the country access to Tuesday’s hearing, where the judge ruled Holt would not be released without a full trial. Caracas has issued no comment outside of the judge’s ruling, while Holt’s family and attorneys protest his detention.
Carlos Trujillo, Holt’s attorney, said that the former Mormon missionary has endured an infection for “three or four months” without receiving care, as the government has blocked all requests to transfer him to a hospital. “We know that this is just another procedural maneuver that they have found to be able to kick the case down the road even further and be able to keep him imprisoned in Venezuela even longer,” Trujillo said following the trial ruling.
He added that Venezuelan officials “are just keeping him alive” until the trial with “two or three” emergency medical visits that did not cure him of his infection, only ensure his survival.
Holt’s mother, Laurie, told the Associated Press that she was “totally devastated” by the ruling. “I can’t understand how they can send a young kid who’s completely innocent to trial and feel good about that,” she lamented.
Holt had published audio of a phone call she received from her son on Monday. In that call, Josh Holt says he has had incessant vomiting episodes. “Guys, I don’t feel very good. … I’m very dizzy and I can’t think and my stomach hurts. … I don’t know what to do. I’ve never felt like this before,” he says.
Along with the audio, the Holt family released a statement urging “our leaders in the federal government [to] double their efforts to bring him home before it is too late.”
President Donald Trump has reportedly taken a “personal interest” in the case. The State Department once again urged Venezuela to release Holt on Tuesday.
“We have consistently called on the Government of Venezuela to release Josh Holt on humanitarian grounds due to his ongoing health concerns,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters during Tuesday’s regular department briefing. “For those who have heard the audio recording, it certainly describes his dire medical condition. We believe that he is in extremely poor health, which is why we continue to call on the government to release him.”
In November, mother Laurie Holt revealed that her son had lost 50 pounds in prison. She also noted that her son reports being tortured in prison, forced to strip naked and do “exercises” for the amusement of prison guards. Undressing in front of strangers is a violation of Holt’s faith, she adds, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints wear religious undergarments as part of their commitment to the faith.
It is unclear whether denying Holt a medical transfer is also part of his intended torture or simply a product of the deteriorated state of the Venezuelan health care system. Venezuela currently lacks an estimated 95 percent of drugs the World Health Organization (WHO) lists as necessary for a functioning health care system, and average Venezuelans must resort to black market sales or travel to Colombia to procure life-saving medications. Venezuela relies on its communist ally Cuba for its medical staff, renowned among global leftists for its medical slave labor.
Holt is being held at El Helicoide, a former mall that has become the premier prison for the nation’s anti-socialist political prisoners. The mid-20th-century building was envisioned as a sprawling shopping center but became the headquarters of the nation’s secret police, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin), under dictator Hugo Chávez.