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Venezuela's Justice Minister Accuses Detained US Citizen of Paramilitary Ties

Caracas, July 21st 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s Minister for Homeland Affairs, Peace and Justice, Gustavo González López, has publically spoken out for the first time on the arrest of a US citizen earlier in June. 

US national Joshua Antony Holt, 24, from Utah was detained on weapons charges by Venezuelan security forces on June 30th, just three weeks after he travelled to the South American country to marry his fiancee, Thamara Belen Caleño Candelo– an Ecuadorean citizen with Venezuelan nationality.

Neither the Venezuelan government nor US diplomatic officials in Caracas had previously made an official statement concerning the arrest, despite several reports in the press. 

But on Wednesday, Lopez broke the government’s silence, giving details for the first time on the controversial detention. 

According to the minister, Holt and his new wife Candelo were found in possession of “an assault rifle AK-47, an American assault rifle replica M4, ammunitions and a grenade,” as well as detailed “strategic” maps of Venezuela’s capital city Caracas.  

They were staying at a residency in Caribia city, a government housing project and pilot “socialist city” about 45 minutes outside of the capital. 

The couple, who are both mormons, initially met online in January 2016 before becoming engaged in April. They married in Miranda state in a ceremony which Lopez described as “irregular” - presumably because Holt was not in possession of a visa that made him eligible to wed in Venezuela. 

The pair were allegedly waiting for Candelo’s US visa to be processed at the time of their arrest, according to press reports. 

Nonetheless Lopez suggested on Wednesday that there was more to the relationship than an internet romance success story and a penchant for firearms. He stated that authorities possessed “evidence” that Holt “had links to politician organisations” in Venezuela and suggested that the US citizen may have been working with criminal gangs to undermine the national government.

The minister described how both Holt and Candelo were both arrested during a police sting in Caribia, where security forces were attempting to find the killers of Omar Jesus Molina Marin, 38, in April– a Venezuelan socialist party leader and an aspirant to the country’s national assembly. 

During the operation, police shot and killed seven members of the “syndicalists,” an alleged paramilitary group accused of assassinating Marin, before arresting a further six members, “including North American citizen Joshua Anthony Holt and Thamara Belen Caleño Candelo,” said Lopez.  

Local residents had previously informed police that the couple were keeping high calibre weapons in their house, he confirmed.  

“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,” explained Lopez. 

“Coincidently, it is the same strategy employed by subjects of other nationalities who are infiltrating the buildings of Venezuela’s great housing mission, where they plan and carry out attacks against the lives of revolutionary leaders,” continued Lopez.

Following his arrest, Holt fell under particular suspicion from authorities because of his status as a “certified pilot” and trained “gunman,” said the minister. 

The minister also accused US secret services of conducting a “non-conventional war” in Venezuela through “interventionist means” and presented Holt as a “suspected foreign agent” in a series of posts and videos on his Twitter account, although he did not provide specific details or proof. 

“Evidence of #NoneConventionalWar with the incursion of foreign agents to promote BCP (criminal paramilitary gangs) in residential complexes,” tweeted the minister, alongside edited footage of Holt shooting a variety of weapons, presumably taken from the suspect’s Facebook profile. 

Another US citizen, Francisco Marquez, was previously arrested in June by authorities who claim that he had travelled to the country to promote violence.  

Reacting to Wednesday’s statements, Holt’s mother, Lauri Holt, vociferously denied that her son might be connected to criminal gangs and said she had cried when she heard the latest news. 

She had previously commented to press that she thought her son was the victim of a “set-up” and that the firearms that authorities found were planted in the couple’s apartment.

She maintains that her son had completed a two year stint at a Washington-based religious organisation which Venezuelan authorities may have confused with a US government mission.  

Posts revealed by the press on Holt’s Facebook page, including videos of him shooting automatic weapons and photos of guns in his possession, appear to confirm his love of firearms but cast doubt on the hypothesis that he might be a foreign agent.  

“This (love of guns) is common… in the US… where terrorist acts committed for racial, homophobic and religious reasons are common,” stated Lopez.  

Ms Holt states she has only spoken once with her son since his arrest, however, the UK’s Daily Mail reports that a US representative had unofficially confirmed that US diplomats had visited the pair in jail. 

The official declared that there was no indication that the couple had been mistreated since their arrest, states the article.

Minister Lopez said Venezuelan intelligence services would continue their investigations into the case. 

Published on Jul 22nd 2016 at 8.39am