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“Hope In Darkness” details Utah man’s Venezuela ordeal

View of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) headquarters, known as "El Helicoide", in Caracas, on May 9, 2019. (Photo by STR / AFP via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who spent nearly two years in a Venezuela prison is sharing never-before-heard details of his ordeal in a new podcast

“Hope In Darkness” tells the story of Josh Holt and his wife, Thamy, who were held without a trial and accused of spying on Venezuela for the United States. The first two episodes are available now. 

“I thought, ‘I’m going to die today'”

Josh and Thamy Holt found their world upended just days after their return from their honeymoon. 

Armed men, likely members of the OLP, which roughly translates to “Operation for the Liberation of the People,” pounded on the door of Thamy’s apartment complex just outside of Caracas in the early morning hours of June 30, 2016. 

The group drove Josh Holt to a nearby location where he found himself facing their guns. 

“Finally, they took me out of the truck and they put me up against the wall, and they said, ‘Stay right there,'” Holt remembered. “And all of a sudden, they all started just dry-firing their weapons. And this is the point where I thought, ‘I’m going to die today.'” 

But without warning, the shooting stopped, and the officers put Josh into a truck bed to move to a new location. 

Arrested together

While Josh Holt feared for his life, Thamy ran frantically through her apartment complex, asking anyone she met if they knew where the armed men had taken “the Gringo.” 

Eventually, she found her husband and planted her feet in the middle of the road, refusing to let the vehicle that carried him pass her. 

“And I don’t let the car go,” Thamy said. 

“And I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, my heck, you crazy woman! What are you doing?'” Josh said. 

An officer in the vehicle got out and asked Thamy if she wanted to be with her husband. Yes, Thamy answered. 

They threw her into the car with him and drove back to her apartment down the hill. 

“I don’t see you in my future”

Thamy Holt’s background is key to understanding why she may have been willing to be arrested for her then-new husband. 

A native of Ecuador, Thamara Belen Caleño Candelo moved to Venezuela with her family at the age of five. She grew up the second daughter of a single mother, Maria – who worked six days a week to support Thamy, her sister and brother. 

At 17, Thamy became pregnant with her first child, Marian. Her boyfriend didn’t want anything to do with her or the baby. 

“Marian’s dad, he told me, ‘I don’t see you in my future,'” Thamy said. “I [cried] a lot.” 

“The answer to my prayer” 

She finished school, went on to college and got a degree, eventually becoming an instrument technician at a hospital. Later, she met the man who would become her first husband, Jose. They would have another daughter, Nathalia, together. However, it wasn’t happily ever after. 

“That relationship was so, so abusive. He sent me to [the] hospital every weekend. And he hit me with a belt like a little kid,” Thamy said. 

The abuse ended because Jose died in a car accident when both girls were very young, leaving Thamy as a single mom and a 24-year-old widow. 

Some time later, she found herself at a temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She prayed, she said, for God to put a “good man” in her life. 

Then, she put it out of her mind. 

A few months later, she connected with Josh Holt on Facebook. She believed he was the answer to that earlier prayer. 

Planted evidence 

On the morning of June 30, 2016, Thamy says she was on the phone with the US Embassy in Caracas when she was thrown into the vehicle after trying to prevent its passage. 

Back at her apartment, she was unloaded and taken inside with one group of officers while another went to El Helicoide with Josh. She watched as officers rifled through her cabinets and drawers and demanded to see her husband’s suitcase. She opened the bag and shook out its contents for them. 

“They said, ‘Okay, go away and let us do our job.’ And I left them alone,” Thamy recalled. 

Within minutes, Thamy said, she heard one of the officers yell for a supervisor to see what he had found. She stood on her own balcony, looking into her apartment, as an officer wearing white gloves removed a grenade from the suitcase – a grenade that hadn’t been there when she shook the bag out. 

Finding hope in darkness

At El Helicoide, the spiraling structure used by the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, or the SEBIN, officers interrogated Josh Holt for hours. A supervisor played Josh video from his own Instagram account, showing him target practicing in the foothills of Utah. 

“And he said, ‘Where were you practicing here in Venezuela? … you were shooting here in Venezuela, training people.’ And I said, ‘No, I wasn’t,” Josh said.

The officer asked Josh to give up his social security number, bank information and other information Josh felt he shouldn’t ask for. Josh refused to give up the information until the officer threatened his family. 

“Not my family in the United States, but my family in Venezuela. My wife and my daughters, her family,” Josh said. “And that’s what they do there. They torture mentally as well as physically.”

He trusted his family in the United States to protect his information as best they could, and cooperated with the officer in an attempt to protect his Venezuelan family. 

Reunited and tortured

“After being interrogated by this guy for probably an our, two hours, eventually my wife showed up,” Josh said. “She just looked at me and said, ‘Joshua, they put a grenade and an AK-47 in our apartment and they’re saying that it’s ours.'” 

The couple were separated again. Josh found himself seated in front of a camera and asked the same questions over and over again. 

“They was asking me the same questions,” Thamy said. “‘Where you meet him, why you marry him? Why him? Why you bring American citizen in your country?'” 

“My wife was only there because I was American. And the reason that they wanted her there was so that she would sign a paper — a paper stating that all that stuff that was happening was true, that all these little things that they put down on paper was true, that all those weapons, the grenade — all that stuff was mine,” Josh said. 

She refused to change her statement. 

“They take a — a pencil sharpener. And they [were] trying to put all my fingers inside,” Thamy recalled. 

“And they ran her fingers up from the bottom and took her nails off,” Josh added. 

“Hope In Darkness” available now

According to Josh and his family, at any point during the nearly two years Josh and Thamy Holt spent in prison, Thamy could have earned her freedom simply by saying her husband was guilty. She never did, in spite of the torture. 

Hope In Darkness will release new episodes weekly on Wednesdays. Subscribe free on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts.