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Utahn in Venezuelan jail barred from hospital, family says

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SALT LAKE CITY — A former Mormon missionary from Riverton whose health has declined during his roughly year-and-a-half in a Venezuelan jail has been denied transport to a hospital despite his "delicate state," his family said Monday.

A judge in Venezuela issued a court order approving Josh Holt's hospitalization two weeks ago as an intestinal bacterial infection worsened, his mom, Laurie Holt, said, but top Venezuelan officials have directed prison officers to ignore the order.

Josh Holt, 25, was arrested in June 2016 after he traveled to the South American nation to marry a woman he met through online Spanish lessons. He sought to secure visas for his wife and her children.

In a roughly 30-second recording his family released Monday, Holt is heard speaking in a weak voice, saying his stomach is upset and he doesn't know what to do. Laurie Holt said her son sent the message Monday morning, about a month after he fell sick with the infection.

"Guys, I don't feel very good. I've been throwing up all night and diarrhea all night. I'm very dizzy and I can't think. And my stomach hurts super bad," Holt says in the recording. His voice catching, he continues, "I really don't know what to do. I've never felt like this before."

A doctor visited the jail and gave her son an IV, but he has not been allowed to leave the building in Caracas, Venezuela's capital city, Laurie Holt said.

She released the video because she wants Venezuelan officials "to see everyone in the world knows my kid is sick. I don't think they want his death on their plate."


In a statement, Laurie and Jason Holt said they were asking again for their son's release on humanitarian grounds because he is "in a delicate state." They urged "our leaders in the U.S. government double their efforts in bringing him home before is too late."

Laurie Holt said she corresponded with the U.S. State Department officials and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch's office earlier in the day.

"It's just impossible," she said. "I've done everything I can think of to do."

Hatch, for his part, said in a statement that denying Holt the urgent care he needs is "beyond inhumane." The Republican senator called for Holt's release and said he would continue to "work behind the scenes to return Josh to his family in Riverton."

In November, the State Department issued a call for Holt's release amid growing concern over his health, saying his care was sometimes blocked altogether. The department also said Holt has been barred from attending scheduled court appearances. His attorneys argued for charges to be dropped at an October preliminary hearing.

On June 30, 2016, Venezuelan officials said Holt was harboring assault rifles and grenades in a plot to undermine President Nicolas Maduro. His family has said he simply was in the wrong place when officers raided the neighborhood of his wife's family. Holt's wife, Theresa Calena, also was arrested and was being held separately in Caracas.

Laurie Holt said that before his arrest, she had always known her son to be healthy, so she believes his constant illness demonstrates the poor quality of food, water and conditions in the jail.

President Donald Trump also called for Holt to be returned to the U.S. in August as he announced sanctions on the nation — a move his family feared would harm his chances of being freed.

Holt's family believed they were a step closer to their son's release earlier this year when a shipping magnate with ties to Venezuela's embattled socialist government signed on to pay for his legal defense.

But Wilmer Ruperti also has fallen sick and has been bedridden for about a week, Laurie Holt said Monday, causing her family "major frustration and panic."


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