SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Holt, a Utah man who spent nearly two years in the same Venezuela prison where two former Green Berets are being held, says he’s doing what he can to help them.
Holt says while their circumstances are somewhat different, but the situation also sounds very familiar.
“I know right now there are two Green Berets that are currently stuck (in Venezuela),” Holt said, “in the exact same cell that I was in.”
After Holt’s arrest on June 30, 2016, authorities held him for questioning for five days at El Helicoide, a spiraling structure in Caracas that hosts the SEBIN, or Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in addition to housing a prison. After a brief court hearing in which the judge ruled that he and his wife, Thamy, would stand trial, the Holts returned to El Helicoide.
For the first several weeks, guards held Josh Holt there in solitary confinement in a cell not much bigger than a twin-sized bed. That cell is the one where Holt says he has confirmed the two Americans are being held now. He recalled his introduction to that cell during the KSL NewsRadio podcast “Hope In Darkness.”
“There were black plastic garbage bags taped up against the bars so you couldn’t see the inside of the actual cell itself,” Holt said. “As soon as I stepped in, all these cockroaches just went up against the walls and into this pile of clothing/bedding.”
When Holt finally got the courage to make a bed on the tiled floor of the cell, he had unwelcome company.
“I just remember cockroaches crawling all over me, and I’d flick them off. And eventually, it just gets to the point that you get used to it,” he said.
Help from Josh Holt
Friday, a Venezuelan judge found Americans Luke Denman and Airan Berry guilty of conspiracy, trafficking in illegal arms and terrorism in a hearing Friday night that their lawyer says he was not notified about. The judge sentenced them to 20 years.
The attorney also says he’s been prevented from meeting with Denman and Berry since their families hired him a month ago.
Holt says that mirrors his experience; he could not meet with his attorney for many weeks after his arrest.
He worries about other abuses facing the two men. Holt witnessed torture and other human rights abuses during his time in the infamous facility. He did not see the sun except for a handful of times during his nearly two years there. Prison officials made inmates pay for basic necessities, such as water for drinking.
Josh Holt says he’s been trying to help Denman and Berry through his contacts who are still inside El Helicoide.
“My wife and I are doing all that we can right now to basically get in contact and get them the things that they need,” Holt said. “I’ve had contact with their families.”
Holt and his wife were framed and Josh Holt was accused of possessing weapons of war before being held as political prisoners.
Denman and Berry were sentenced for their part in a blunder-filled beach attack aimed at overthrowing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. “Operation Gideon” was launched May 3 from makeshift training camps in neighboring Colombia and left at least eight rebel soldiers dead while more than 60 more were jailed.
Ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, who operated a Florida-based security firm called Silvercorp USA, claimed responsibility for the failed attack and had hired his two former Army buddies to prepare a small cadre of deserting Venezuelan soldiers living at the makeshift camps. Venezuelan prosecutors have ordered his arrest. Goudreau is believed to be in the U.S., where he also is under investigation for possibly violating arms trafficking laws in connection to the botched incursion.
The two Americans have ever since been paraded by officials on Venezuelan state TV as proof of their long-held claims that the United States is set on violently overthrowing Maduro’s socialist government.
U.S. officials have denied any role in the attack but have not said what knowledge they had about the clandestine camps in Colombia, details of which were made public by an AP investigation two days prior to the raid. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington would use all possible means to win the freedom of Denman and Berry.
Contributing: Associated Press