By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Summer is easing into fall in Utah but the minds of Jason and Laurie Moon Holt are somewhere far away: in Venezuela, an exotic and dangerous country where their son, a 24-year-old Missionary and Elder in the Later Day Saints church, came to marry a Venezuelan girl he met online but ended up in jail.
“The last 103 days have been a nightmare”, Laurie Moon Holt told Latin American Herald Tribune
during a phone interview.
One hundred and three days. That’s how long Josh has been in jail in Venezuela. He has been in custody since June the 30th but the government only admitted to have him in custody on July 8th -- the first in a series of irregularities that give another black eye to a justice system that has been heavily criticized.
Police said Holt and his wife of only a few days, Venezuelan Tamara Caleño, had a small arsenal inside their tiny apartment: an AK-47 assault rifle, a hand grenade, a facsimile of an M4 assault rifle as well as US dollars and Venezuelan Bolivars in cash, passports, computers and cameras.
As if the weapons charges were not bad enough, the Venezuelan government later accused Holt and wife of being tied to the recent murder of a member of the PSUV ruling party.
A diplomatic official from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas has been allowed to visit Holt “about once a month”, the mother of the arrested American says.
Of the Venezuelan authorities she says: “They have not been very cooperative.” Not only that, she fears her son is being used for an exchange of prisoners straight out of a spy movie.CARIBBEAN BRIDGE OF SPIES?
During the interview, Mrs. Holt told the Latin American Herald Tribune
that she fears her son is being used “as leverage” to try and secure the release of two members of the Venezuelan First Family, Francisco Flores and Efrain Campo Flores, who have been on trial since last November in New York City on charges of trafficking close to a ton of cocaine.
“I have heard that Maduro has two nephews that have been arrested for drug smuggling and I can’t help but think that he is using Joshua as leverage to try to get his nephews out of the United States, but Joshua didn’t do anything. This is terrible, I just want to get my boy home,” she says.
Laurie Moon Holt says the issue of her son came up during the recent meeting between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. She says that “He (Kerry) asked him (Maduro) to give him his freedom.” However, she does not know what Maduro replied.
“I don’t know what he said (Maduro) at all. The State department has not given us an inkling,” she says.
She has only been able to talk to Josh once. “I was able to talk to him for about 3 minutes. The conversation was full of tears and concern. He just kept saying: ‘Mom, you gotta help me, they planted those weapons, I’m innocent. You know I would not do anything like that.’ And I know that isn’t like my son. My son , he just served a two year mission in the state of Washington, a church mission, for two years all he did was serve the Lord and help people better their lives. He would not have weapons of any kind.”NO HOT PURSUIT
The Venezuelan government said Josh Holt and his wife were arrested after police entered Holt’s apartment in hot pursuit of him: he had failed to stop when cops told him to, bolted inside his apartment instead, which is where police found the weapons.
However, Laurie Moon Holt said police first came into Josh’s apartment, chatted for a few minutes amicably and left, only to return 45 minutes later, enter the apartment by force and take Josh and his newlywed wife, Tamara with them. To this day.
"They made him take off his garments; made him get undressed. He was naked for about 30 minutes while they made him do squat exercises, jumping jacks, things of that nature. They were saying derogatory things, calling him a gringo,” said Mrs. Holt.
Holt is an Elder in the Mormon Church of the Latter Day Saints. Forcing him to go naked is a particularly serious offense, noted Mrs. Holt. “It’s like forcing a Catholic nun to take off her habit or a Muslim woman to show her face. What they have done to humiliate him, that goes against his face. In the church we believe that our clothes are what keep us modest and to be subjected to this….”
“It’s just been a nightmare for our family,” Mrs Holt says at the end of the interview. She says several times during the interview that she only wants her son back home and that they tell him Venezuela “is a beautiful country” but “they don’t like the United States very well.”