The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about threats made against Belize journalist Melvin Flores, who fled to the United States. Flores began receiving threats and menacing telephone calls following the publication of an exposé about corruption in Belize City, the country’s largest metropolis.
Flores, 33, is a prominent investigative journalist who has written for the Belize City–based biweekly Amandala for 11 years. A citizen of Honduras and a permanent resident of Belize, Flores travels on a Honduran passport.
On January 26, Flores reported that a possibly stolen sport-utility vehicle—a Hummer, which is produced by General Motors—had arrived in Belize, allegedly with the help of government officials. U.S. Embassy sources in Belize later told Flores that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) matched that of a Hummer in Pennsylvania.
According to Flores, the U.S. Embassy informed Belize customs officials that the Hummer was stolen. Despite the evidence, officials released the vehicle to a local businessman on January 31.
With this additional information, Flores wrote a second article that should have run on February 7, but Amandala never published the story. According to Flores, editor Russell Vellos claimed that there wasn’t space in the newspaper for the article. Vellos refused to comment on the situation.
On February 7, says Flores, two men approached his wife telling her that they needed to meet her husband in private. They later appeared to be surveilling the couple’s home. That same day, Flores received threatening telephone calls. According to local press reports, people involved in a stolen-vehicle ring were attempting to intimidate the journalist.
According to Flores, Amandala‘s publisher, Evan X. Hyde, told him that he could not protect him. The journalist left for the United States on February 10. Hyde confirmed this information today and said that if Flores felt safe enough to return to Belize, Flores would have his old job back.
In 2002, Flores published a series of articles about the illegal sale of Belizean passports. The investigations implicated Immigration Minister Maxwell Samuels, who was removed from office but later appointed transportation minister.
As an organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, CPJ respectfully asks Your Excellency to do everything within your power to investigate the threats against Flores so that he can return to Belize and continue to pursue his work as an investigative reporter.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.