Venezuelan prison holding U.S. man is lawless torture chamber, released man says

Joshua Holt, the young Utah man jailed in Venezuela since June 30, remains relatively strong, according to a former political prisoner who was released last week.

“He’s strong, I cannot say he was down, he’s been through difficult times and his conditions are not the best, but he seems to be strong,” said Francisco Márquez, a dual U.S. citizen who is back in San Diego with his family.

“I managed to talk to him briefly. He was happy to talk to somebody who speaks his language,” Márquez, 27, told Fox News Latino. Márquez said he spoke with Holt on Oct. 14.

Márquez is one of dozens of opposition activists, former governors and lawmakers who have languished in Venezuelan jails — and one of the lucky few to be released.

A former mayoral official director in El Hatillo, Márquez described the Helicoide facility where he was held along with Holt as the “Venezuelan Guantanamo.”

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He said the hardest thing for him was the torture he had to witness. “The screams and the sound of the beatings, the broken ribs,” he said. He also alluded to the kind of mistreatment Holt’s lawyer denounced just a few days ago, saying he was forced to take off his clothes off and do squats in a hallway.

“Some prisoners were forced to jog naked in an unbearable heat without food and water,” Márquez told FNL.

Holt, 24, and his Venezuelan wife were arrested on weapons charges after authorities during a raid allegedly found a small arsenal they say was intended to assist the U.S.’s efforts to undermine Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.

Holt and his wife say the weapons were planted.

Márquez said that during his incarceration he was appalled not only by the fact that inmates don’t get a chance of a fair trial, but the absolute power the intelligence agency known as Sebin holds in deciding who stays and who goes.

“There are inmates, like Holt, without fair trials. But that’s not all,” he said. “Sebin ignores the release orders, inmates spend months in there even after a release order has been granted.”

Márquez, who was arrested just a couple of weeks before Holt and his wife, spent a total of 121 days in four different prisons across the country.

He was arrested in June while taking part in a nationwide recall campaign against Maduro and accused of trying to foment violence. He says a judge dismissed his charges in late July, leaving the socialist government with no justification to hold him.

Meanwhile, Holt has had two hearing dates suspended and has been granted a third one on Nov. 8.

If the hearing does take place that day, a judge 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. If the judge fails to show up yet again, he could languish in prison indefinitely.

Márquez said the government uses prison sentences as a means to send a message: if you want to be with the opposition, you can get into serious trouble.

“That's what happened to me. I shouldn’t have spent four months in jail,” he said. “But when they realized that I was part of an operative team of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática [the opposition coalition], their attitude changed. They want everybody to be afraid.”

Márquez’s release has been attributed to negotiations with Spain’s former President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who is trying to mediate in the Venezuelan crisis. But people familiar with the situation say several diplomatic efforts were actually involved.

“There were multiple diplomatic maneuvers,” said Márquez’s former boss, El Hatillo mayor David Smolansky. “As for the dialogue [with Rodríguez Zapatero], I think is very difficult to say because on the same day Márquez was released, the government detained another Voluntad Popular activist, José Vicente García,” he said.

“It's the cruel and evil system that we have.”