This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, May 28, 2018:
American patriots still remember sorties of aircraft delivering pallets of American currency ($1.7 billion-worth) to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in exchange for the so-called Iranian “deal” that President Trump just cancelled. As a result, skeptics, including this writer, are asking: “What did the president give up to secure the release of Utahn Josh Holt and his wife and daughter over the weekend?”
It’s highly unlikely that Marxist thug Nicolas Maduro is all of a sudden Trump’s best friend, especially as the American president is ramping up additional sanctions against his failing and collapsing regime. Just a few days before the Holts’ release, Maduro ordered the American ambassador out of his country in retaliation for the American government’s assertion that his election on May 20 was a farce.
Why the sudden change of heart? It’s all speculation, of course, but the backstory of the Holts’ release is worth telling.
Two years ago, Holt flew to Venezuela to marry his Mormon sweetheart, whom he met over the internet while trying to improve his Spanish. Within hours of his wedding, Maduro thugs arrested both of them on phony illegal weapons charges and put them into a detention center known as El Helicoide. There they stayed without being allowed even a preliminary hearing. And there they were likely to stay without outside help.
That help came from an unlikely and largely unknown source: Caleb McCarry, a back-channel operative working in Washington since 1990. He now serves as a staff member to Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). His connections to the Maduro regime were established when he, along with Rafael Lacava (known among his constituents in Venezuela’s Carabobo state as “Dracula” for driving around at night in a Batmobile-like vehicle), was involved in an informal gathering known as the Boston Group. That group was created following an attempted coup against then-Venezuelan president Hugh Chavez in 2002, to repair relations between the U.S. and Venezuela afterwards. Both had cordial relations with Maduro, and both used them to bring the release by Maduro of Holt and his family on Saturday.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also aided in the release with a visit to Venezuela in February to see Maduro. This was followed by a visit by McCarry to discuss Holt’s imprisonment, then going on to two years, and the possibility of an exchange for two of Maduro’s wife’s nephews who had been convicted of drug trafficking in New York in 2016.
This was followed by a visit by Lacava to Washington in March to meet with Senators Hatch, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.).
There was little movement on either side until late last week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed Corker, who had scheduled a meeting with Maduro with the help of McCarry for Friday morning. After two hours of negotiations, Maduro announced that Holt and his wife and daughter were free to leave.
The rest is history. Senator Hatch took most of the credit, tweeting on Friday: “Over the last two years, I’ve worked with two presidential administrations, countless diplomatic contacts, ambassadors from all over the world, a network of contacts in Venezuela, and President Maduro himself, and I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family in Riverton.”
Utah Rep. Mia Love gave some love to Donald Trump, who was, after all, the president while all of these behind-the-scenes backchannel discussions were taking place:
So many Utah families send their sons and daughters out [on Mormon mission trips] for maybe a year and a half to two years, and they want to know, if something happens to their children, that the United States will have their back.
I don’t think there’s a person in the United States right now [who] doesn’t think you [the president] have their back.
So everything is back to normal. Holt and his wife and daughter are reunited with their family in Riverton, Utah. A few more newspaper interviews, and Josh will be back to whatever normal was before he flew off to Venezuela to marry his Mormon sweetheart. Hatch, on the way out the door, had one last moment of glory, while Trump has another entry on his list of accomplishments to tout while touring the country in support for Republicans. McCarry is back to work tending to his network of international contacts he has built up over the past quarter century. Pompeo and Corker, Lee and Love, Durbin, and others working behind the scenes to pull this off are no doubt enjoying the media coverage.
But the question remains? Did Trump get lucky? Has Maduro caved thanks to Trump’s sanctions? Did Corker offer to release Maduro’s wife’s nephews in a midnight exchange that will only come to light years from now when it really doesn’t matter?
If Maduro is suffering from such a serious bout of generosity, why doesn’t he release the other political prisoners rotting in his filthy Venezuelan jails? At last count, according to the Wall Street Journal, “President Nicolás Maduro’s government is holding a record number of prisoners of conscience.”
The Wall Street Journal: In Venezuela, a Latin American Throwback: Political Prisoners