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U.S. man to hit 100 days in Venezuelan jail as diplomatic efforts intensify

  • 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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

  • Laurie Holt with her son, Joshua. (Photo courtesy of Laurie Holt)

    Laurie Holt with her son, Joshua. (Photo courtesy of Laurie Holt)

On Saturday, Joshua Holt’s Venezuelan nightmare will reach 100 days. Three days later, on Oct. 11, the Utah man jailed in Caracas prison will know his fate in a long-postponed hearing in which his defense will request his release.

“He hopes to be freed that day,” Jeanette Prieto, Holt’s attorney, told Fox News Latino.

The court date was initially set for Sept. 14 but it never happened because the appointed judge, Elena Cassiani, failed to appear. No explanation was ever given.

Holt, 24, was arrested June 30 on weapons charges just five days after flying to the country to marry Thamara Caleño Candelo, a woman he met on an online Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website. They are both Mormons.

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

Holt and his wife insist the weapons were planted.

If the hearing does take place next week, Judge Cassiani will rule whether the charges can be fully dropped or if the case merits to a trial. He could also be allowed to be released pending trial.

Holt’s situation is particularly difficult for his family, who lives in Utah.

According his mother, Laurie Moon Holt, Josh has been severely impacted emotionally and she is beyond worried over his state.

“His depression has reached an all-time high. My heart breaks that I can't be there to hold him with both arms wrapped around him so tight,” she wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

Edder Jimenez, the president of a Caracas Mormon chapter, told FNL they are helping in every way they can. However, the visitor policy at the prison where they are both being held is quite restrictive.

“The only people that are allowed to visit Holt are his attorney and representatives from the U.S. embassy,” said Jimenez.

In the past few days, the U.S. government seems to have increased its diplomatic pressure over the Holt case. Persistent rumors this week signaled the impeding visit of U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon, to Caracas to address the case.

But as of Wednesday none of it was confirmed.

“We have no travel plans to announce at this time for Under Secretary Shannon,” a State Department spokesperson told FNL on Tuesday night.

In a meeting with President Maduro on Sept. 26, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the detentions of Holt and Francisco Marquez, a Venezuelan-American political activist from the opposition arrested a few days before Holt.

“We are following these cases closely,” a spokesperson told Fox News Latino. “We will continue to provide all assistance to Mr. Holt and Mr. Marquez through our embassy in Caracas. The Embassy is in contact with their families and continues on a regular basis to attempt to visit both prisoners. We call on the Venezuelan government to respect due process and human rights.”

Another U.S. government source said to FNL that representatives from the embassy last saw Holt on Sept. 21.

“We are waiting hopefully for Oct. 11th hearing results,” the source added.

Venezuela and U.S.’s diplomatic relations have been strained for close to two decades, since Hugo Chavez took power in 1999. Despite this, Holt’s attorney and Jimenez refused to comment about any political implication that his case might have.

Holt is being held at El Helicoide, a prison controlled by Venezuela’s intelligence police (Sebin) that also holds a handful of political prisoners.

As it happens, Sebin’s director is General Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, a well-known Chavista who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2014 for human rights violations. And the intelligence police operate under the Interior Ministry, which is currently headed by General Nestor Reverol, who just two months ago was indicted for drug trafficking by a U.S. federal court.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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