Venezuela presents details in weapons case against Utah man


CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan authorities on Wednesday presented what they said are new details in the case against a 24-year-old Utah man being held on weapons charges.

Joshua Holt traveled to Venezuela last month on a tourist visa to marry a fellow Mormon he met on the internet. At the time of the arrest June 30, Holt’s new wife, Thamara Caleno, was waiting for a U.S. visa so the pair could travel to his home in a suburb of Salt Lake City.

Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez offered what are the most-extensive public remarks by a Venezuelan official on the case since Holt’s arrest. He called Holt by the supposed alias “the gringo” and described him a “trained gunman” with a pilot’s license who is adept at using technology. Although scant on details, he questioned the legality of a marriage license the couple obtained in Caracas and said Caleno’s apartment in a housing complex built by Venezuela’s socialist government was used to stockpile weapons.

Gonzalez stopped short of accusing Holt of spying, but suggested his case was linked to other unspecified attempts by the U.S. to undermine President Nicolas Maduro’s rule during a period of deep economic and political turbulence.

“Under different facades, the secret services of the United States are seeking to achieve goals in an unconventional war through interventionist actions that stimulate the formation of criminal paramilitary gangs in housing complexes,” Gonzalez said in televised remarks. “We won’t permit the dark interests of capitalism, backed by the criminal gangs, to suffocate the stability and peace of the country.”

Venezuela is in the midst of a severe crisis marked by widespread food shortages and triple-digit inflation that Maduro almost daily blames on an economic war being waged by his opponents.

Venezuelan prosecutors have charged Holt and Caleno with possessing weapons of war and said they found an assault rifle and a grenade at her home.

Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, said members of her family like to hunt and her son once took flight classes while in high school. But she said he was never certified as a pilot and doesn’t know how to operate a plane. She believes the weapons found with him were planted.

“I just can’t believe how bad they can twist this,” she said in a phone interview from Utah. “We’re not blaming the government; we just think it’s a big misunderstanding.”

Holt had returned to his home in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, in January after a two-year mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Washington state. He learned to speak Spanish while working with Hispanic immigrants during his time there, his mother said. She said her son met Caleno through the internet when he went looking for a Spanish-speaking Mormon to help polish his Spanish, and the couple fell in love during their sessions online.

U.S. officials in Caracas have met with Holt behind bars and say he hasn’t been mistreated.