POLITICS

Congresswoman urges release of Utah man jailed in Venezuela prison

Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Josh Holt at her home, in Riverton, Utah, on July 13, 2016.

Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Josh Holt at her home, in Riverton, Utah, on July 13, 2016.  (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

As thousands of Venezuelan’s took to the streets today in Caracas demanding a recall election for President Nicolás Maduro, Utah parents Laurie and Jason Holt, met with Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Mia Love to discuss securing Congressional support for the safe release of the Holt's son, 24-year-old Joshua, who’s been jailed in Venezuela since June 30.

A day earlier, Love said her office is doing everything it can to secure Joshua's release, whose parents live in her district.

She sent a letter to the U.S. State Department in July asking for more information on his case and plans to send another one requesting that Secretary of State John Kerry demand Holt's release.

“It’s been a hard day. Lots of tears in the meeting with Sen. Hatch and Rep. Love,” Laurie Holt told Fox News Latino. “Not knowing anything in a country that’s falling apart ... because of the march today, I feel very nervous,” she said.

Laurie received a letter written by her son a couple of weeks ago, but communication has been quiet since Saturday, she told FNL.

"We're not moving fast enough," Love, a Republican, told the Associated Press. "I can imagine that every day he spends there is absolutely horrific." 

Sen. Hatch, also a Republican, has worked to facilitate Holt's release, according to the AP.

Holt, 24, who is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints like his parents, was jailed on weapons charges after he traveled to Venezuela to marry a Venezuelan Mormon, Thamara Caleño Candelo,whom he met on the internet.

Since his arrest, Holt has been portrayed by the pro-government media there as “el agente gringo,” a U.S. spy who infiltrated the country under the guise of being a man in love.

Venezuela authorities contend Holt was using his wife's apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons and have suggested his case was linked to other attempts by the U.S. to undermine Maduro's rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.

Laurie thinks the assault rifle and a grenade found in the couple's apartment were planted. She said she hopes Love's backing spurs more action from the U.S. government.

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

Laurie Holt told FNL that Vice President Joe Biden has become aware of Josh’s case.

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

In the letter Laurie received, Holt told her that he's experienced police harassment while behind bars and is suffering from kidney stones. U.S. officials said last week that there were no signs he had been mistreated in prison.

Holt met Caleño Candelo online using an LDS dating site, and she has also being held as an accomplice.

Holt’s parents have set up a GoFundMe page using the social hashtag, #JusticeForJosh, to help pay for the newlyweds' attorneys.

She says they are now tapped out. “We have no more money to send to lawyer,” Laurie told FNL.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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