An indigenous activist fighting against the opening of a thermal power plant and construction of a gas pipeline in Morelos was killed this morning, three days before a public consultation on the energy generation project is scheduled to take place.
Nahuatl man Samir Flores Soberanes was shot in the head in front of his home in Amilcingo, a town in Morelos about 20 kilometers southeast of the Huexca plant. He died from his injuries in a hospital in Cuautla.
The activist group of which Flores was a member – the People’s Front for the Defense of Land and Water – said in a statement that two vehicles parked in front of his home at around 5:00am. Their occupants called for Flores to come out and fired at him when he did.
President López Obrador condemned the murder at his morning press conference, describing it as “vile” and “cowardly” and promising an investigation.
But he said that the public vote on the power plant, part of the US $1.3-billion Integral Morelos Project, will go ahead.
“I’m very sorry about the murder [but] we have to continue the consultation because it is a process that was already agreed to at an assembly,” López Obrador said.
“We don’t know with what intent this horrendous crime was committed. Maybe among the possibilities was to affect the carrying out of the consultation . . .” he added.
The Morelos attorney general said there was no evidence that the killing was related to the power plant. Uriel Carmona said there were indications instead that organized crime was involved.
Local communities have been fighting against the Integral Morelos Project for years, which in addition to two power stations at Huexca also includes a 160-kilometer pipeline to supply natural gas to the plant from Tlaxcala and an aqueduct.
Mainly indigenous communities near Huexca – including Amilcingo – some of which are also in the vicinity of the Popocatépetl volcano have concerns about the impact of the plant’s operations on health, safety and water supply.
The People’s Front activist group said that Flores attended a public forum about the project yesterday and challenged statements made by government representatives. It also said that he had been threatened several times since 2012.
In addition, the group said that it had warned López Obrador that going ahead with the public consultation could cause violence in the area and blamed the federal government for Flores’ death.
The president announced on February 8 that the government would hold a vote February 23 and 24 in Morelos and municipalities in Puebla and Tlaxcala through which the gas pipeline runs.
Citizens will face a single question: Do you agree with the Federal Electricity Commission’s Huexca thermal power plant starting operations?
López Obrador sought to entice citizens to vote in favor of the project by pledging that cheaper electricity prices will be on offer.
He said the government won’t act without the support of residents but stressed that if the plant isn’t put into operation, an investment of more than 20 billion pesos (US $1 billion) will be lost and electricity will have to be bought from private companies.
An umbrella group of several different organizations rejected the consultation shortly after it was announced, saying it would remain opposed to the project regardless of the outcome of the vote.