Venezuela accuses U.S. of politicizing Josh Holt detention

Josh Holt and Thamara Caleño were arrested in Venezuela in June, 2016, on weapons charges, shortly after they were married.
Josh Holt and Thamara Caleño were arrested in Venezuela in June, 2016, on weapons charges, shortly after they were married. Courtesy

Venezuelan authorities Friday accused the United States of trying to manipulate public opinion and politicize the trial of Josh Holt, a Utah man who has been detained in Caracas since 2016 on weapons charges.

In a statement Friday, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said Holt was in good health and will be guaranteed a fair trial.

“We regret that the government of the United States is trying to turn this judicial case into a political issue,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Read More: Court rules Holt will stand trial

The pushback comes as the U.S. government has repeatedly asked Caracas to release Holt, a former Mormon missionary, on humanitarian grounds. According to his family and government officials, Holt’s health is failing after he has remained in detention for almost 18 months.

In the statement, the ministry said it was “false that Mr. Holt’s life is in danger due to lack of, or insufficient, medical attention.”

Holt and his Venezuelan wife, Thamara Caleño, were formally charged with possession of illegal weapons on Tuesday.

Read More: How a Venezuelan honeymoon turned into jail time

The Foreign Ministry said that during that court hearing, the judge determined that Holt was in good health and that there was no basis for “asking for his humanitarian release.”

The U.S. Department of State on Thursday said embassy officials had not been allowed to observe the hearing and that they were often denied access to Holt at the Helicoide detention facility in Caracas.

Also on Thursday, a federal court in New York sentenced the nephews of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores — Efraín Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores — to 18 years in jail for conspiring to ship more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the United States.

Read More: A tale of two trials: ‘Narco-nephews’ and Holt

Holt traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Caleño and take her and her two children back to the United States. While they were waiting for their U.S. visas, however, the apartment complex they were staying in was raided and police said they found two rifles and a hand grenade in their dwelling.

Friends and family say Holt is innocent, and eyewitnesses to his arrest will apparently testify that he was framed by police.

Despite a growing campaign to get Holt released, the Foreign Ministry said it will “be the judge who will determine the innocence or guilt of the accused, without political obstruction or interference of any kind.”

Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss