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Hope In Darkness – Ep. 2 – Full Transcript

Full Transcript – Ep. 2: Thamara

Thamara Holt searches for answers after her husband of just two weeks is arrested. Armed men continue to round people up. After one of the longest days of their lives, Josh and Thamy wind up under interrogation at El Helicoide, an infamous Venezuelan prison. 

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Ep. 2: Thamara

HOST BECKY BRUCE:   

Hope in Darkness is a podcast that addresses sensitive topics, including torture, abuse and human rights violations. This episode will also address domestic abuse. Listener discretion is advised.

JOSH HOLT:

I wake up to just a gun being shoved onto my foot. I look up, and there was an AK-47 just pointed right in my face.

BECKY: 

Summer 2016, just two weeks after traveling to Venezuela to get married, Josh Holt woke up to a living nightmare. Armed, uniformed men knocked on the door of the Caracas apartment belonging to his wife Thamy, burst in, and told Josh to give them his phone and come along. Josh had been taken from the apartment by members of a controversial anti-crime group called the OLP, Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People. Officers took him outside to a waiting truck, stuck him in the back, and then drove up the mountain from his wife’s hilltop apartment. Thamy was left alone with her two daughters.

THAMY HOLT: 

The police take Josh. And one of them told me, “Stay here.”

BECKY:

It was an order she immediately ignored. She ran downstairs from her second-story apartment to chase after the truck. When the vehicle got too far ahead, she spent the next few hours racing through her neighborhood, asking anyone she met —

THAMY: 

Do you know where the gringo is?

BECKY: 

The officers first took Josh not to a police station, but to a construction site where they taunted him and went through his phone.

JOSH: 

They put me up against the wall and they said, “stay right there.” So, then they all kind of gathered together and they were all laughing and talking. I didn’t know what was going on. All of a sudden, they all kind of lined up, looking at me. They pointed their guns at me. They all started just dry firing their weapons. This is the point where I thought, I’m gonna die today. One of these police officers is going to have a bullet in their gun.

BECKY: 

But no one did. Instead, they moved him to another nondescript location, not far from Thamy’s apartment.

JOSH: 

They took me out of the back of the bed, and they put me up against the wheel of the truck. I just remember bullets hitting the truck and flying by, and I was just thinking what is going on. I felt like I was literally in war without a gun and without an idea of what was going on around me.

BECKY: 

After 30 minutes or so, the OLP once again put Josh back in the bed of the truck.

JOSH:

Then all sudden, out of nowhere, I see my wife from up the hill. Walking down the hill.

BECKY: 

Thamy had finally found him.

JOSH:   

I could just see the tears coming out of her eyes and the sad look on her face.

THAMY:

I walked beside Josh, but I can’t say hi. Around the truck was, like, seven or five cops.

JOSH: 

She just mouthed —

THAMY:

A quiet, “I love you.”

JOSH: 

I just mouthed back to her, you know, “I love you.” I just kept watching her as she just kept walking down the hill.

BECKY: 

Once Thamy walked away, Josh was handed over to the custody of a new group of policemen and put in a jeep with four officers, three men and a woman. It had been five hours since he was first taken from Thamy’s apartment. Just as the Jeep was prepared to take him down the mountain for the final time, Thamy reappeared.

JOSH: 

My wife got into the middle of the road and just stopped.

THAMY:

I don’t let the car go.

JOSH: 

I’m just thinking, oh my heck you crazy woman. What are you doing?

JOSH: 

The lady officer gets out and goes up to her screaming at her, you know, “What do you want? What are you doing?” She goes, “That’s my husband that’s in that car.” “That’s your husband?” And she goes, “Yeah.”

THAMY:   

“You want to be with your husband?” “Yes,” I said.

JOSH: 

So then they threw her into the car with me. I’m just thinking, you idiot. What are you doing? You know, now you’re in here with me.

BECKY: 

I’m Becky Bruce, and this is Hope In Darkness episode two, “Thamara.” In this episode, we’ll learn more about Thamy’s life in Venezuela, we’ll discuss how where she was living may have had an impact on the couple’s fate and learn just how much she was willing to bear for her new husband. Because Thamy is more comfortable speaking Spanish, at times, you’ll hear her thoughts through a translator.

BREAK

BECKY: 

Thamara Belen Caleño Candelo was born in Ecuador but moved to Venezuela when she was five. As a result, she says she often felt like an outsider. Her middle school principal, in just one example, tried to kick her out of school over immigration paperwork. She was fiercely defended by her single mother, Maria, who worked six days a week to care for Thamy, her older sister, and younger brother. When she was a teenager, Thamy became a mother herself. At 17, she got pregnant with her first child, Marian.

THAMY: 

That year, it was so, so hard for me. Marian’s dad…he told me, “I don’t see you in my future.”

BECKY: 

Thamy was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she quit going after her pregnancy — finding church wasn’t as friendly as it used to be. Still, she finished school, skipped maternity leave, and went right back to work after her daughter was born. Her grandmother helped to care for the baby while she was working. On top of her teen pregnancy, Thamy soon found herself the head of the household.

THAMY: 

Mi mamá siempre fue una madre trabajadora, nunca estaba en casa…[fade down]

TRANSLATION: 

My mom was always a working mother. She was never at home. She worked from six to six. She only came home to bathe, eat, and sleep. The next day it was the same. Every day it was the same, even on Saturdays. We had to go to church in the mornings, then home in the afternoon, but mom slept Sunday afternoons. Then it was my older sister and I who cared for my brother.

THAMY: 

[fade in] …cuidamos a mi hermano era mi hermana mayor y yo.

BECKY: 

By the time Thamy became pregnant, her mother had started dating the man who would become Thamy’s stepfather.

THAMY: 

Estaban a punto de casarse. Tenía planes de matrimonio…[fade down]

TRANSLATION: 

They were about to get married. They had plans to get married. So I suppose the fact that I got pregnant was the key for her to decide to leave. I suppose that the fact that she left the house was a way to let me know, it’s your responsibility. It’s your pregnancy. It’s your child. You don’t need anything else from me. That’s my thought.

THAMY:   

[fade in] …es mi pensar.

BECKY: 

Taking care of her younger brother made Thamy’s life much more difficult.

THAMY: 

She left me alone in her house. I take care of my little brother, my baby, and I.

BECKY: 

How old was your brother?

THAMY: 

Um, I was 17. He was 15.

BECKY: 

That’s a lot of responsibility for a teenager.

THAMY: 

Yeah. And he did drugs, he hit me, and push me when…I don’t know how you say it…drogado?

BECKY:

That is, when he was high.

THAMY:

Mi mamá no se llevó mi hermano porque tenia problemas de droga…[fade down]

TRANSLATION: 

My mom didn’t take my brother with her because he had drug problems. My stepfather didn’t want anything to do with that. She preferred her husband over us. My brother had drug problems and needed help with that. But he also couldn’t be helped. Then it’s something very difficult to explain. I don’t defend it, but I see both sides.

THAMY:

[fade in]…no lo defiendo, pero sí veo ambos lados.

BECKY: 

In spite of what she calls her difficult youth, Thamy persevered. She went to school to become an instrument technician and got a job at a hospital. There, she met her first husband, Jose. They had a second daughter together, Nathalia, nicknamed Natty. She even rejoined her church.

THAMY: 

Now I’m married, the people can’t talk bad stuff of me, so I’m good now. I can go back.

BECKY: 

But it was far from happily ever after. Jose had a drinking problem.

THAMY: 

That relationship was so, so abusive. He sent me the hospital every weekend, and he hit me with a belt like a little kid.

BECKY: 

And like many women in abusive relationships, she stuck around.

BECKY TO THAMY: How long were you with Nathy’s dad?

THAMY: 

Like, five years.

BECKY: 

Thamy tried to kick Jose out, repeatedly. But every time she kicked him out, he came back. One time, he even kicked down the door. In the last few months of their relationship, she says the things with Jose did get better. He’d stopped drinking. He was a better husband. Until one weekend in 2015, when he decided to go out with his friends. Late at night, Thamy got a phone call. The voice on the other end told her Jose was in a horrible accident and needed help right away. But he had a history. She wasn’t sure she could trust it.

THAMY: 

At three in the morning, I’d receive a call, and they told me, “Okay, your husband passed away.” And I said, “No, you are joking.” And I hang up the call.

BECKY:

Then around 7 a.m. a final call — from the morgue.

THAMY: 

They take me [to] a cool room and pull up a tray. He was there. So cold. Not alive. I feel so bad because I could [have] done something for him. And I didn’t.

BECKY: 

Jose was 26. Thamy was a 24-year-old widow with two girls to take care of. Sometime later, Thamy went to the temple and prayed for God to put a good man in her life. Within months, she connected with Josh Holt on Facebook.

BECKY: 

Outside of her tumultuous personal life, Thamy had to deal with other calamities. She was twice dislocated from her home due to natural disasters. The first was in 1999, when flash floods and landslides killed tens of thousands of people in the mountains around Caracas. The second involved more landslides in 2010, while she was pregnant with Nathy.

THAMY: 

Tuve que salir por mi propia seguridad…[fade down]

TRANSLATION: 

I had to leave for my own security, because my house sat in front of a mountain. If the mountain fell, I didn’t have a way to get out of my house. The government destroyed my house. They sent a construction team and tore it down, took it down to the walls. They gave me an apartment for compensation. An old house for a new house. A house that put me in danger for one that gave me security, supposedly.

THAMY: 

[fade in]…supuestamente.

BECKY: 

Thamy’s new apartment was located in a housing complex known as Cuidad Caribia. This was a passion project of longtime president Hugo Chávez, who wanted to revolutionize housing in Venezuela. When he was first elected in 1998, Chávez promised to make life better for the Venezuelan poor. His Bolivarian Revolution, named after the man who liberated much of South America from Spain in the 19th century, was meant to relieve suffering and minimize inequality. In many ways, Cuidad Caribia represented what Chávez envisioned his country could be. Like a lot of socialist leaders, he had a six-year plan. One that would share the wealth broadly, so that everyone would prosper and live better lives. It hinged on the country’s rich oil fields. How it worked out in reality was nothing like the dream. The housing complex, made up of over a dozen multi-story apartment buildings, was built on a cleared mountaintop outside Caracas. Its construction was lauded by Chávez as a monumental achievement in a 2011 appearance on his talk show, Aló Presidente.

CHÁVEZ ARCHIVAL: 

Aló Presidente…[fade down]

BECKY: 

Literally “Hello, Mr. President.” Every week, Chávez took to the airwaves to explain his policies, goals and achievements, sometimes speaking unscripted for up to eight hours at a time. Cuidad Caribia was, in his mind, one such accomplishment. He called it a socialist city.

CHÁVEZ ARCHIVAL: 

Con escuela, sitio para la recreación, un complejo integral…

BECKY: 

With a school, a place for recreation, a totally integrated complex, not unlike many planned communities you might find here in the United States. In his vision, Cuidad Caribia would be the first of many of these homes, especially for Venezuelans affected by natural disasters like Thamy.

CHÁVEZ ARCHIVAL:  14:07 

Tener un apartamento, una buena vivienda…de punto de vista, esencial de la vida.

BECKY: 

That is to have an apartment, to have a good place to live, was empowering. After his death in 2013, Chávez left a visible mark on Cuidad Caribia. One of its buildings is tagged with the leaders distinctive signature in bright red paint, an “H,” followed by a flourish, and CHÁVEZ underneath in all caps. Many of Thamy’s neighbors were chavistas, supporters of Chávez and his Bolivarian ideals.

THAMY: 

Te puedo decir que noventa por ciento apoyaban a Chávez.

BECKY: 

Thamy says that 90 percent of her neighbors were Chávez backers. The other 10 percent kept their opinions to themselves.

THAMY: 

Tú no podías decir a mí no ne me gusta Chávez …[fade down]

TRANSLATION: 

You couldn’t say I don’t like Chávez because that was how you became a target.

THAMY: 

[fade in]…y las personas empezaban a atacarte o ofenderte, arromperte las ventanas…[fade down]

TRANSLATION:

People would attack you or offend you, break your windows. There was a woman who in the city supermarket said, “Death to Chávez and to his cabinet,” and she later found the glass in her windows broken.

THAMY: 

Y ella encontró los vidrios de sus ventanas rotos. La gente le lanzó piedras a su casa.

TRANSLATION: 

People threw rocks at her house.

BECKY: 

How did you feel about all of that?

THAMY: 

I don’t like…because I don’t support the Chavism.

BECKY: 

Thamy wasn’t a chavista. She says that she did live rent free in Cuidad Caribia for over six years, but she was not a Chávez loyalist. Her ambivalence was noted by some of her more politically active neighbors. One woman even tried to get her kicked out of the complex

BECKY TO THAMY: 

Could she have had you removed? Is that a possibility?

THAMY: 

Yes. Mhmm.

BECKY: 

Just for being a political opponent?

THAMY: 

Yes.

BECKY: 

Josh arrived at Cuidad Caribia on June 11, 2016. Josh and Thamy were arrested on the 30th. It’s difficult to know whether or not Thamy’s political leanings had anything to do with their run-in with the OLP. Even if that wasn’t a factor, Chávez was outspokenly anti-American throughout his presidency. We’ll talk about the reasons why on our next episode. An apartment complex full of chavistas would have definitely noticed Josh’s presence as a white American, as a gringo. Really, there are two possibilities. The OLP raided the apartment complex simply because they were cracking down on crime as part of their mission. Or someone ratted Josh and Thamy out, perhaps out of loyalty or in exchange for favor from Nicolas Maduro’s regime. When the OLP showed up at her apartment on June 30, Thamy wasn’t about to let them steal away the man she believed was the answer to her prayers.

THAMY: 

I know how the cops are in my country. They are bad persons. They don’t care nothing about you. If they want money, they ask you for money.

BECKY: 

That’s why she ran frantically through her neighborhood yelling for Josh. And when she found him, stood in the middle of the road, and refused to let the police go by.

THAMY: 

You want to be with your husband? Yes.

BECKY: 

Thamy was put in the back of a car and immediately separated from her husband. Josh was taken away in the truck and Thamy was taken back to her Cuidad Caribia apartment, where the officers began a thorough search of the residence. By that time, Thamy’s mother had arrived. Thamy had called her to look after her daughters while she searched for Josh. Thankfully, her mother had told Nathalia and Marian, who were just four and seven, to stay in their room. I asked Thamy if the girls were afraid.

THAMY: 

No, estaban viendo televisión.

BECKY: 

No, they were watching TV and didn’t notice anything strange going on. But Thamy did have to sit by as the police went through her things. They rifled through drawers and cabinets before turning to Josh’s computer.

THAMY: 

“You know the password?” I say, yes. “Can you give me a password?” Yes.

BECKY: 

The OLP officers went through Josh’s files and took his hard drive, then demanded to see Josh’s suitcase.

BECKY: 

Right before his arrest, the police had demanded the same thing of Josh.

JOSH: 

It’s upwards of 10 police officers, and the first thing that they say to me is, “Where is your suitcase?” Yeah, well, what kind of question is that?

BECKY: 

Thamy led the officers to her bedroom, opened the bag, and shook out its contents.

THAMY: 

So they told me, “Okay, go away and let us do our job.”

BECKY: 

This would turn out to be a critical moment for the Holts. Within minutes, Thamy says she heard one of the officers yell —

THAMY: 

“Hey, boss, come here and look what I found.”

BECKY: 

She ran to the balcony of her second-floor apartment. From there, she could see into the bedroom. Thamy says she saw an officer in white gloves holding up a grenade — a grenade that was not there when she shook out the contents of Josh’s suitcase just a few minutes earlier. The officers forced her mother and the girls out of the apartment, leaving Thamy alone with the police. They aimed their guns at her, pulled her hair, and threw her on the ground, demanding to know why she had a grenade in her home. Thamy told them —

THAMY: 

I don’t have a grenade in my house, you put the grenade in my house. I was so mad, and I was crying a lot. I was so scared and so nervous, so I stopped talking with them.

BECKY: 

The OLP officially arrested her. Thamy didn’t know it, but she would soon be reunited with her husband.

BREAK

BECKY: 

Josh had been taken 13 miles down the mountain into Caracas, to a prison known as El Helicoide.

JOSH: 

The whole entire time we were driving there, I was super nervous. I didn’t know what was going on, what to expect. I think that the police officers that were there with me were kind of… around the same thing, not knowing exactly what was going on, but they were trying to comfort me at the same time.

BECKY: 

They even stopped to buy him drinks and empanadas.

JOSH: 

We just kind of were sitting in the vehicle as I was waiting. I was just with one officer and the officer was like, “Dude, don’t, you know, don’t worry.” It helped calm me down. I didn’t think that there was gonna be a lot of issues. I thought, you know, this is gonna be a weird day. That’s what kind of started going through my mind.

BECKY: 

Once inside the prison, Josh was met by a sergeant.

JOSH: 

He just started saying that I was in trouble. He said, “You’re in big trouble. You’ve done a lot of bad things. I don’t know why you think you can be here, and you can do these things here in Venezuela.” Just started going on on me. I was confused. I didn’t understand what was happening. I said, “No, what are you talking about? I haven’t done anything wrong.”

BECKY: 

The sergeant started going through Josh’s phone. Then another sergeant — one who spoke English — arrived. The interrogation began in earnest.

JOSH: 

Not only was he saying that I was a bad person, but then he started saying that I did all these bad things. He started talking about my weapons.

BECKY: 

Josh and his family are hunters and, like many people in the American West, Josh was a gun owner. The sergeant showed Josh his own Instagram account, where Josh had shared pictures of ammunition he recently bought at a gun show, and a video of himself shooting at a range.

JOSH: 

And he said, “Where were you practicing here in Venezuela?” I said, “Where was I practicing here in Venezuela?” He says, “Yeah, you were shooting here in Venezuela, training people.” I said, “No, I wasn’t.”

BECKY: 

The sergeant pressed on, asking Josh if he had guns in Venezuela.

JOSH: 

I don’t have guns here in Venezuela. In fact, I’ve never seen a gun here in Venezuela other than what your officers have, and I’ve never touched a gun here in Venezuela.

BECKY: 

The officer demanded Josh hand over his bank information and social security number. Josh knew that sounded fishy and refused. The sergeant got angry.

JOSH: 

Then he started threatening my family. Not my family here in the United States but family here in Venezuela, my wife and my daughters, her family. They would tell me that I wouldn’t see him again. They would tell me that they would show me pictures that would make me cringe.

BECKY: 

And that’s what got Josh talking.

JOSH: 

After being interrogated by this guy for probably an hour to two hours, eventually my wife showed up, and turned and looked at me. And she just had that look once again on her face, the look of being scared. The look of she’s been crying. You could just see her eyes were all red. As I looked at her, she just looked at me and said, “Joshua, they put a grenade in our apartment, and they’re saying that it’s ours.” I remember throwing my wallet down on the table and just saying, “This is bulls***.”

BECKY: 

Josh was put in handcuffs for the first time, and he and Thamy were led to another room.

JOSH: 

It was kind of like a storage room for broken things. Computers, refrigerators, there were ovens, there were chairs, broken chairs.

BECKY: 

Broken stuff and, by Thamy’s count, 17 other people all lined up along the wall.

JOSH: 

They put my wife with the other women that were in the room, and then they put a chair in the middle of the room. That’s where they handcuffed me to, which I thought was kind of weird. Handcuffed me to a chair while everyone else is standing up against the wall.

THAMY: 

We spent like 10 hours in that room.

JOSH: 

All the people that were in there. started talking about me saying, “Hey, you know, you’re American, so they can’t treat you bad. You need to ask for water. You need to ask to go to the bathroom. You need to ask for this, you need to ask for that.”

BECKY: 

The guards soon put a stop to the chatter.

JOSH: 

Whenever they heard whispers or people talking or something, a guy would come in with a bamboo stick. He would hit people against the chest or the ribs with a bamboo stick that he thought were talking, or sometimes they would just come in and do it to almost everybody. One person would just put their bamboo stick up against their shoulders, shove him against the wall. His other officers would come in and just punch him in the ribs.

BECKY: 

Periodically, guards would take some people out of the room. Then it was Josh and Thamy’s turn.

JOSH: 

I remember walking out there with my wife and looking at this table. They had their little flag over the table, and then on top of the flag was all of our stuff that they took away from us. They had my passport, my wife’s passport, they had her driver’s license, which they called cédula, and they had my driver’s license. They had — I love sharing this. They had my library card.

BECKY: 

They took pictures of everything, then photos of Josh and Thamy with their confiscated things. They were separated again.

JOSH: 

I remember, she turned and looked at me and she said, “Joshua, please don’t forget me. Pease don’t forget our children.” That’s always hit me. That’s always stuck with me. To think that because of a situation like this, my wife was so scared that I was going to forget her and her children. I just looked at her, and I said, ” Don’t ever think that way.”

BECKY: 

They took Josh to a room with some computers and made him sign a paper more or less acknowledging that he knew his rights. They began to interrogate him all over again.

JOSH: 

They would ask me how I met my wife. I’d go through the entire story of how I met my wife. How we talked on Facebook. How we met in the Dominican Republic. Then when I finally went to Venezuela, then how we got married, where we got married. Then what happened at the airport. Then where we went on our honeymoon. Then when we came back. Then what we did when we came back and then that morning. What I didn’t know was that at the same time they were also asking my wife the same questions.

THAMY: 

When they separate Josh and I, they take me in office room. They [were] asking me the same questions. Where you meet him? Why you marry with him? Why him? Why you bring an American citizen in your country?

JOSH: 

My wife was only there because I was American. The reason they wanted her there, was so that she would sign a paper. A paper stating that the grenade, all that stuff was mine.

THAMY: 

They [were] telling me something like, he’s a bad person. He has a gun. He’s a spy. And I say “No, he’s not.” “How you know?” Because I trust in him.

JOSH: 

She said, “I’m not going to sign that, because I know that that’s not my Joshua. I know that he didn’t do those things.” My wife literally had my life in her hands. I had known this woman for just over six months, seven months. She literally could have put me away for the rest of my life. Just by signing that one paper.

BECKY: 

Somehow, after everything she’d gone through, a teen pregnancy, abuse from her brother, abuse from her first husband, Thamy not only believed Josh was the answer to her prayer, she trusted him completely.

THAMY: 

They was telling me something like, “Why you trust in a man you just meet?”

BECKY TO THAMY:

Why do you trust a guy that you only just met?

THAMY: 

Yes, and they start torture me.

BECKY TO THAMY: 

Torturing you.

THAMY: 

Torture me. Yeah. So they take a pencil sharpener, and they tried to put my… all my fingers inside.

JOSH: 

They took the bottom part out of the pencil sharpener. They put the pencil in to turn on the pencil sharpener, and they ran her fingers up from the bottom.

THAMY: 

So, I can feel the blades, and they take off my nails.

BECKY: 

They only stopped, she said, because she started yelling for help. Next time on Hope In Darkness.

LAURA GAMBOA: 

We’re talking about 500 people who have been disappeared. We’re talking about selective killings. That’s when we start seeing full blown repression.

BECKY: 

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please get help. In the United States you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at 1-800-799-7233, or visit t he hotline.org. In an emergency, dial 911. Hope in Darkness is written and produced by me, Becky Bruce. Additional producing and editing came from Nina Earnest. Sound mixing by Trent Sell. Our executive producer is Sheryl Worsley. Original theme composed by Michael Bahnmiller. Additional voice work provided by Rebecca Cressman and Alex Kirry. Special thanks to Josh and Thamy Holt and their family, for sharing their experiences and story. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Hope Darkness pod or online at hopedarkness.com, and your feedback is always helpful. Drop us a rating or review wherever you listen. Hope in Darkness is a KSL podcast.

Dive deeper into the Josh Holt story.