The parents of an American who has been detained in Venezuela since June are calling on President Donald Trump to “do what the previous administration could not" and secure the release of their son.
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Laurie and Jason Holt of Utah say they have exhausted nearly every resource available to bring home their 24-year-old son, Joshua Holt, and that they are praying that Trump will make his immediate return a priority as he begins his presidency.
But the family says they fear time may be running out. The Holts say their son has been held in appalling conditions with meager food and limited access to health services and that he is close to losing hope. They also say he is suffering from weight loss, kidney stones and painful tooth decay.
Laurie Holt released a Youtube video on Monday pleading for her son's freedom. In the video, she accuses the Obama administration of not doing enough to put public pressure on Venezuela. The U.S. sanctioned Venezuela in 2014 and top officials have taken up Holt's case, so far to no avail.
"He has given up," Laurie Holt said in a statement on Monday. "He now says he would rather die than spend another day there." She fears that the trauma may have changed her son forever, so much so that she may never really have him back, even when he is finally released.
Holt's ordeal began last summer after the former Mormon missionary from Utah traveled to Venezuela to marry a woman he met on an online Mormon dating site. He planned to return to the U.S. with his new wife and two stepchildren, but the new family never made it back to the states.
Instead of beginning their new life in America, Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleño, have been held by Venezuela's intelligence agency on weapons charges.
The newlyweds were awaiting visas to return to the U.S. when their apartment complex was raided in a sting operation that police say recovered multiple weapons. Holt and his family deny the charges.
Venezuelan officials accuse Holt of being a U.S. spy and a terrorist. Venezuela's interior Minister, Gustavo Gonzalez, has referred to him as "trained gunman" with intentions of destabilizing Venezuela, according to a report by the the Associated Press.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State John Kerry took up with issue directly with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro last year. Last week, Senator Orin Hatch, R-Utah, met with Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss foreign policy issues as well as Joshua Holt's release. Hatch said he wants to ensure that, under Tillerson’s leadership, U.S. diplomats will continue working to bring Josh home.
“[I] appreciated the Secretary-designate’s commitment to work with us towards Josh’s release,” Hatch said in a statement after the meeting. “We will not give up on delivering justice for Josh, and I ask that everyone continue to include the Holts in their thoughts and prayers.”