American political prisoner in Venezuela may be granted conditional release

There may be at least some slightly better news coming for an American citizen from Utah who has been held as a political prisoner in Venezuela by President Nicolas Maduro for almost a year now. If you’re not familiar with the case of Joshua Holt, we had coverage of his story last August when he was initially arrested. Holt is a Mormon from Utah who met a Venezuelan woman online, fell in love and traveled to South America to marry her. While awaiting visas for his new bride and her two children so they could return to America, Joshua was arrested on charges that he was storing a rifle and grenades in the apartment they were sharing with her family. (He claims that the weapons were planted by the police after he refused to pay them a bribe.)

Now, after all these months in one of Maduro’s prisons with no progress toward a trial, the country’s top prosecutor has requested his provisional release while she reviews the case. Of course, that may be easier said than done. (Associated Press)

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor on Friday requested the conditional release of a Utah man and his wife detained for over a year on weapons charges in a case that has further rankled already tense relations with the U.S.

The petition to have Joshua Holt and his wife Thamara Candelo freed but barred from leaving Venezuela while awaiting trial was made because of what the prosecutor’s office said were repeated delays by the court overseeing the case.

Prosecutors also requested that they be allowed to verify the couples’ health in the Caracas facility run by Venezuela’s intelligence police where they are being held alongside some of President Nicolas Maduro’s fiercest opponents.

This isn’t the first time that Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega has crossed swords (rhetorically) with Maduro, but she’s putting herself in a precarious position. Formerly part of his inner circle, Ortega seems to have seen the writing on the wall and has been distancing herself from the embattled president. In a more “normal” country you couldn’t imagine the president simply throwing the government’s chief prosecutor in jail for defying his will, but this is Venezuela we’re talking about and they remain under the rule of a socialist tyrant. All of this is unfolding just as Maduro prepares to have people vote on whether or not he should be able to rewrite their constitution. (Though, as John points out in the linked article, the results of that vote will be essentially meaningless and the president will do as he pleases anyway.)

What’s possibly more disturbing is the fact that this tyrant, just like the leader of Turkey, is able to keep an American citizen imprisoned for so long with no consequences. John Kerry failed to do anything about getting Holt and his wife released while Obama was still in office and I don’t know if Rex Tillerson is even working on the problem. The Utah resident is almost certainly being held on trumped up charges, but he’s clearly being used as a political pawn at this point. (How was Holt supposedly able to get his hands on those kinds of armaments as soon as he stepped off the plane in Caracas from his honeymoon?)

It’s also worth remembering that Holt isn’t the only American that Maduro has grabbed. Francisco Marquez was arrested last June while gathering signatures for a referendum to remove Maduro from power. He was released last October, thankfully, and is now leading online calls for Maduro’s removal from his home in the United States, but it’s still a reminder of how little fear Maduro seems to have of the United States.

I’ve never called for U.S. intervention in Venezuela to save her people from Maduro. That’s their job if they truly want to step away from socialism and reform the system. But we do have a vested interest in protecting American citizens. If we can’t get Joshua Holt and his family back on American soil soon, Maduro needs to face some serious consequences in the form of additional isolation from the West.