A Venezuelan prison rebellion entered its second day Thursday amid confusion, heightened tensions and worries about the fate of hundreds of prisoners, including Josh Holt, a U.S. citizen who has been detained since 2016.
As family members, diplomats and human rights activists tried to determine exactly what was happening inside the Helicoide prison, where some of the nation’s most important political prisoners are held, the government largely remained mute.
But in social media messages filtered from the prison, detainees reported that officials had forced their way into the wing they were occupying, that everyone was safe, and that negotiations were under way.
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The rebellion began Wednesday after one prisoner was apparently beaten by others on orders from the guards, according to local media reports.
Holt, a former Mormon missionary, has been in the prison since June 2016 after he was detained in Caracas when he traveled there to marry a woman he met on a religious dating site. He and his wife, Thamara Caleño, were arrested on weapons charges that his legal team says were fabricated.
Early Thursday, Holt recorded a message which his family posted on Facebook. In it, he says that everyone in the prison is okay but asks the American people, his senators and the U.S. government to “please don’t leave me alone here.”
In a previous video, Holt said that he — like many of the prisoners — had been held for years without going to trial. He called himself a “hostage” of the Venezuelan government.
Venezuela has long maintained that Holt is part of a broader U.S. plot to destabilize the socialist administration.
Late Wednesday, Diosdado Cabello, a former vice president and powerful ruling-party member, once again accused Holt of being a spy.
“He’s a supposed Mormon who uses religion as a disguise,” Cabello said on his weekly television show, according to multiple local reports. “He directed a network of Latin American spies from here, from Venezuela.”
Cabello accused the U.S. government and Venezuela’s opposition of trying to stage a “show” while the eyes of the world are on the country as it heads toward a controversial election on Sunday.
Talking to local reporters Thursday, the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Venezuela, Todd Robinson, pushed back against Cabello’s comments.
“This is no show,” he said. “There are people, human beings in danger in a jail in Venezuela…We’re trying to find out about the safety of one of our citizens.”