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Holt, who had been imprisoned in Venezuela for two years, was released following diplomat efforts by the Trump and Obama administrations.

Joshua Holt was accused of being the CIA's top spy in Latin America by senior Venezuelan officials but United States officials, including Trump, say he was held "hostage".

McCarry secretly traveled to Venezuela in February to discuss Holt's imprisonment with Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores. But instead, he was arrested and accused of being a USA spy.

In a statement, Holt's relatives gave thanks "to all who participated in this miracle". "And so know that we are engaged", Pompeo told lawmakers at the hearing.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Well, this really came as a huge surprise, Lulu.

"They were a very, very, very hard two years", he said. Restatements of demands for his release were issued by senior U.S. politicians, and Todd Robinson, then the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, showed up at Venezuela's Foreign Affairs Ministry in Caracas to demand information about his safety.

In televised comments as recently as the beginning of the month, the No. 2 official in Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, described Holt as "the head of US espionage in Latin America", and said that he would remain behind bars. So it didn't seem like anything was really going to happen.

Holt and his Venezuelan wife, Thamara Candelo, arrived in the U.S. Saturday accompanied by Senator Bob Corker, who helped negotiate their release.

They were welcomed to the White House by US President Donald Trump, who told Holt he had been "incredibly courageous".

For the exchange of Holt, the United States "offered nothing" to Venezuelan leadership, two White House National Security Council officials told CNN.

OTIS: Yeah. That's a very good question.


"We hope this gesture strengthens dialogue and respect toward our independence", Venezuela's Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said of Holt's release in comments broadcast on state television. The couple were falsely accused of spying on Venezuela on behalf of Washington and neither allotted a trial nor presented with evidence for the claims against them.

I interviewed Holt's family afterwards, at their apartment. Corker flew back to the United States with the couple and Thamy's daughter from a previous marriage.

OTIS: Yeah. That's correct, Lulu.

At the time, Venezuelan authorities declined to receive him. Yet the Venezuelan human rights group Foro Penal called the effort simply part of a new "revolving door policy" in which some prisoners were being released even as others were being detained. I've been begging my government for two years.

Holt's release comes more than a week after he posted videos to Facebook during a prison riot, pleading for help from Americans and the U.S. government. A riot broke out there two weeks ago.

"People are trying to break in my room and kill me", Holt posted on Facebook at the time.

Gonzalo Himiob, a lawyer with Venezuelan rights group Penal Forum, said Holt was being transferred from jail to the US embassy in Caracas, and would leave for the United States on Saturday afternoon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why do you think he was suddenly released?

Last week, Maduro won a second term as president, despite the economic catastrophe he has presided over, in a vote that was labeled rigged by independent observers.

Trump says 17 prisoners have been freed from overseas captivity since he's been president and that others would be coming. The oil industry is sinking right now. Trump said Holt's case had proved hard and lawmakers, along with members of the State Department, had been working tirelessly to have him released. Authorities arrested him on June 30, 2016 and accused him of using his wife's apartment in Caracas to stockpile weapons and suggesting his case was linked to other unspecified US attempts to undermine President Maduro's rule amid deep economic and political turbulence. That's John Otis in Bogota. So thank you, thank you.


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