Joshua Holt, a former Mormon missionary from Utah who had been imprisoned in Venezuela since June 2016 on false charges of espionage, arrived in the United States after his release Saturday and met with President Donald Trump, who said securing his freedom was "a tough one."
At the White House, the 26-year-old missionary was joined by his Venezuelan wife, Thamara Caleno, his parents, Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Utah Representatives Mike Lee and Mia Love, according to The Wall Street Journal.
"Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela," Trump tweeted Saturday. "Should be landing in D.C. this evening and be in the White House, with his family, at about 7:00 P.M. The great people of Utah will be very happy!"
Venezuela's authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro released Holt after negotiations with Washington to avoid stricter U.S. sanctions.
"We hope that this gesture is read by those factions that promote aggression against Venezuela," Venezuela Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez was quoted as saying.
"The Venezuela play is obvious: A gesture of good will after the sham elections and the increased international pressure," Mark Feierstein, the former director of Latin America at the National Security Council under the previous administration, was quoted as saying.
Sen. Corker released a statement thanking Sen. Hatch for working "tirelessly on the Holt family's behalf."
"I was honored to play a small role in bringing Josh and his wife home to the United States," he said. "I also would like to thank Secretary Pompeo and his team at the State Department for all that they have done."
Sen. Hatch also thanked Corker. "I want to thank Chairman @BobCorker and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their pivotal help in this effort. I want to particularly thank Caleb McCarry (a member of Corker's staff), whose expertise and effort in Venezuela on my behalf has been instrumental in bringing Josh home," he tweeted.
In a statement, the White House thanked the Maduro regime for releasing "the unjustly detained" U.S. citizen but stressed that his freedom "does not change United States policy."
"The Maduro regime must call free, fair, and transparent elections, consistent with its constitution. The election process that occurred on May 20 was illegitimate. The regime must allow all Venezuelans and political parties to participate freely in new elections and the democratic process. It must release all political prisoners, and must accept desperately needed international humanitarian aid for Venezuela's dying citizens," it said.
Holt's release comes about 10 days after he begged the U.S. government for help, saying his life was under threat as riots erupted and inmates took over the Helicoide detention center where he was being held in Caracas, the headquarters of intelligence agency Sebin.
"They want to kill me and paint the walls with my blood. I am a political prisoner and they won't let me free. They won't give me a true trial," he wrote in a Facebook post. "The Sebin has told me that as long as my government continues attacking this government and as long as Marco Rubio continues talking about me the longer that they will never let me go. People here are dying, we need help."
Holt met his wife, also a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, online, and fell in love. He traveled to Venezuela and married her days later in June 2016. The couple settled into an apartment in Caracas where Holt's new bride lived with her daughters while they awaited U.S. visas.
Holt and his wife were arrested soon thereafter on suspicion of illegally possessing weapons. They denied the charges, saying Venezuela was holding them to bargain with the U.S. over economic sanctions.