Merida, May 28, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The release of a US citizen accused of terrorism from the Helicoid prison facility in Caracas, only days after a bitter row of words resulted in the expulsion of diplomats by both sides, has left analysts puzzled over the status of US-Venezuela relations.
Joshua Holt of Utah was detained in the Socialist City of Caribia close to Caracas alongside his new wife Tamara Caleno in June 2016. They were allegedly in the possession of a large arsenal of weapons, grenades, and strategic maps of Caracas.
The couple was being processed by Venezuelan authorities for spying, violence, and actions against the Constitution and Venezuelan law when the government announced their surprise release this Saturday.
Holt’s situation attracted public attention this past May 18 following a riot in the Helicoid – apparently led by right-wing fellow prisoners Daniel Ceballos and Lorent Saleh only two days before the presidential elections – and was apparently the topic of a high level meeting last week between Maduro and US Republican Senator and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission Bob Corker.
Following their release the couple were quickly flown to the US, accompanied by socialist Governor Rafael Lacava, upon which Holt immediately met with President Trump. No statements have been released about what was discussed in the White House.
The Maduro-Corker meeting comes amidst the expulsion of the US’s highest diplomats, including Charge d’Affaires Todd Robinson, from Venezuela this past week for alleged conspiracy and meddling in Venezuelan affairs, increased economic sanctions against Caracas, and Trump’s non-recognition of the May 20 elections.
Nevertheless, Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez told the nation, “President Maduro has held fructiferous meetings in a climate of cordiality, dialogue, and an exchange of opinions and ideas with representatives and senators of the US Congress for some months now.”
Rodriguez emphasized that Holt’s release came as part of the electoral pledge and strategic policies lines announced by President Maduro entitled “dialogue and pacification of Venezuela” which look to “overcome the wounds of the violence registered in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017”.
In the spirit of dialogue, Maduro has recently met with losing presidential candidate Javier Bertucci and convened meetings with large business owners, including those of European and Asian firms working in Venezuela. He has also expressed willingness to sit down with representatives of the Venezuelan opposition in new roundtable talks.
Venezuelan journalist William Serrano of Mision Verdad speculates that Maduro’s policy of meeting Corker – who blocked Senator Marco Rubio’s sanctions bill against Venezuela in 2014 – looks to undermine the position of US President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Rubio himself of isolating Venezuela. It may also seek to exploit divisions between the US Senate and the White House.
Serrano further argues that by negotiating with US institutions, a tacit recognition of Maduro’s electoral victory and role as constitutional president is implied.
Although it remains unclear what Caracas is set to gain from the negotiations which resulted in Holt’s release, US VicePresident Pence was quick to clarify that the sanctions are set to continue.
Very glad that Josh Holt is now back home with his family – where he has always belonged. Sanctions continue until democracy returns to Venezuela.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) May 26, 2018
At the time of Holt and Caleno’s arrest, then Homeland Affairs, Peace, and Justice Minister Gustavo Lopez stated that “The foreign couple were lodging in this residential complex, in a building which, according to information from intelligence tip-offs, was the headquarters of the criminal paramilitary gang, and was used as a holding centre for weapons of war and explosives”. He also claimed that Holt is a certified pilot and “trained gunman”.
According to US sources, Holt was in Caracas merely to wed Ms Caleno, a fellow Mormon of Ecuadorian-Venezuelan nationality whom he met online. They claim he is innocent of the charges and that the couple was awaiting Ms Caleno’s US visa.