U.S. sanctions remain despite Mormon missionary release from Venezuela jail

U.S. sanctions remain despite Mormon missionary release from Venezuela jail

An American and his wife held almost two years in a Venezuelan jail received a hero's welcome at the White House as they returned home Saturday following their release - a move by sanctions-hit Caracas in a bid to spur dialogue with Washington. Authorities arrested him on June 30, 2016 and accused him of using his wife's apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons and suggesting his case was linked to other unspecified US attempts to undermine President Maduro's rule amid deep economic and political turbulence. Orrin Hatch of Utah worked tirelessly for Holt's family.

President Donald Trump announced Saturday morning that American prisoner Josh Holt has been released from prison in Venezuela.

"I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude", he told the president. "That was a tough situation", Trump said.

"We're praying that this types of gestures by our president, Nicolas Maduro, will allow us to strengthen what we've always sought: dialogue, harmony, respect for our independence and respect for our sovereignty", he said. "We're in the midst of some very big negotiations to get others out".

Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a "hostage".

For the next two years, Holt endured a living hell.

The attorney for the Holt family released a statement from Josh Holt's family as they prepared to leave Utah and head to Washington be reunited with their loved ones. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, on Friday, two days after the embattled socialist leader kicked out the top USA diplomat in the country. The family of Joshua Holt, who was recently released from a prison in Venezuela, father Jason Ho.

At the meeting in the White House on Saturday, Trump called Holt "incredibly brave".

"In the end, Corker was the closer", the official said. He spoke to Holt, commenting on how much the entire group worked to secure his release.

To Holt, Trump said: "You've gone through a lot". He added, "we hope this is read by sectors that permanently promote the attack of Venezuela as a profound intention to seek peace between Venezuelans and the people of the world".

Last week, the United States government denounced as a "sham" Maduro's recent victory in elections, in which he secured six more years in office.

On Friday, human rights monitors reported the release of 20 activists who had been jailed in the western state of Zulia for protesting against the government. Saturday night's Oval Office celebration follows Trump's greeting at Joint Base Andrews earlier this month of three Americans released by North Korea in the lead-up to a planned summit with Trump. "It's a measure meant to somehow lower tensions".

Mr Holt was jailed and branded the CIA's top spy in Latin America after travelling to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry Spanish-speaking Mormon Thamara Caleno in the country. He was arrested by Venezuelan security forces in June 2016, days after he married Venezuelan resident Thamara Caleño.

In a harrowing recent Facebook post, Holt pleaded for help and for his life, from a Caracas jail.