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Rep. Mia Love demands Venezuela release jailed Utah man

By Brady McCombs, Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 31, 2016 at 3:02 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. congresswoman Mia Love said Wednesday she will call on the State Department to do more to free a Utah man who's been jailed in Venezuela for two months on weapons charges.

The Republican congresswoman from Utah said she is preparing to send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting he demand Joshua Holt's release.

Love wants other members of Congress to support the letter before she sends it, said her spokesman Rich Piatt. Sen. Orrin Hatch has also been working to facilitate Holt's release.

Holt, 24, has been in the Venezuela since June 30 on suspicion of weapons charges after he traveled there to marry a fellow Mormon he met on the internet.

Venezuela authorities contend Holt was using his wife's apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons.

They stopped short of accusing Holt of spying, but have suggested his case was linked to other unspecified attempts by the U.S. to undermine President Nicolas Maduro's rule during a period of deep economic and political turbulence.

His mother, Laurie Holt, says her son is innocent and is suffering behind bars. She thinks an assault rifle and a grenade found in the apartment had been planted there. Holt has denied wrongdoing and said police officers demanded a he pay a $10,000 bribe.

Love said in an emailed statement her office is doing everything it can to secure the release of Holt, whose family lives in her congressional district.

"As a mother, I would want my representative to make this a priority," Love said.

U.S. diplomats most recently visited Holt in a Caracas prison on Aug. 16. But the U.S. government so far has avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela amid already strained relations between two countries that haven't swapped ambassadors since 2010.


State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday in a statement that officials are following the case closely, has brought it to the attention of senior Venezuelan officials and will continue visiting Holt.

Laurie Holt praised Love's support, saying she hopes it will spur stronger U.S. government action.

"It feels like we're finally climbing up that mountain and at the peak now," Laurie Holt said.

In a recent letter from prison, Holt told her he is experiencing a "horrible nightmare" of police harassment behind bars and is suffering from kidney stones. U.S. officials said last week that as of then there was were no signs he had been mistreated in prison.

Holt learned Spanish in Washington state during a two-year mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and met his future wife, Theresa Caleno, online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. Caleno is also jailed as an alleged accomplice.

Holt's mother has said her family has run out of money to pay Venezuelan lawyers and that she has trouble sleeping because of anxiety. A Venezuelan lawyer advised her not to travel to the country, warning she could be arrested for criticizing Venezuela's government.

"I'm not going to be quiet," Holt insisted. "I'm going to continue to put the pressure out there."

Holt is one of 12 U.S. citizens jailed in Venezuela.

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