Oxfam America is gravely concerned for the physical safety of Yuri Melini, executive director of our Guatemalan partner organization CALAS (Center for Legal, Environmental Action) and its legal coordinator Rafael Maldonado.
On Monday August 29th, Melini and Maldonado received anonymous threatening letters at their office. The threats were made following a presidential candidates’ debate on oil and mining issues in Guatemala convened by CALAS and moderated by Melini. CALAS has also recently denounced an attempt by the Guatemalan government to illegally approve a license for gas exploitation in an important Guatemalan protected area called “Punta de Manabique”.
Violence and tensions in Guatemala have intensified in the run-up to the country’s presidential elections on September 11. Large-scale mining operations in particular have been the source of protest, violence, and human rights violations since the early 2000s.
CALAS has sought to promote informed debate about the costs and benefits of oil and mining in the country and to promote greater respect for the rights of indigenous communities.
In 2009, Melini was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. “I won’t be intimidated by these threats,” Melini said in a statement. “I will continue the struggle to defend human rights and protect Guatemala’s environment.”
Oxfam America has provided financial support to CALAS since 2005. The organization is a key partner in the global Right to Know/Right to Decide campaign for reform of the extractive industries.
“The ongoing threats against Yuri Melini and other human rights and environmental activists in Guatemala are completely unacceptable,” said Keith Slack, manager of Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program. “All Guatemalans have a right to express their opinion about mining and other kinds of development activity without fear of threats or violence.”
Oxfam America calls on the Guatemalan government to ensure Yuri Melini’s and Rafael Maldonado physical safety and to thoroughly investigate the origins of these threats.Update - October 28, 2011
During August and September 2011, Oxfam America supporters sent more than 12,000 emails to the president of Guatemala in support of Yuri Melini. On October 4, Melini sent the following letter in response to this outpouring of support :
"On behalf of the Guatemalan Center for Legal, Social and Environmental Action (CALAS) I would like to profoundly thank Oxfam America for its demonstration of solidarity and support, particularly for the urgent action carried out by the offices in Central America (CAMEXCA) and Washington, DC on behalf of Rafael Maldonado, our legal coordinator and myself, in the face of death threats of which we were the targets last August.
We sincerely appreciate the support that Oxfam’s supporters provided us, as well as actions by the president of Oxfam America, such as the letter sent to the US Ambassador in Guatemala, which demonstrated the interest and concern for our security and physical safety and that of the entire CALAS team.
This action and the other gestures were a strong backing and support to our work as human rights defenders and to our work in defense of the rights of communities to be informed and to decide on extractive industries in their territories, particularly because these activities put at risk the environment and communities’ present and future quality of life.
Dr. Yuri Gionvanni Melini, Director General, CALAS"