Indigenous eco-activist slain in Morelos, Mexico

An indigenous environmental activist was killed in Mexico's south-central state of Morelos on Feb. 20—three days ahead of a planned referendum on an energy development project that he opposed. Samir Flores Soberanes was a leader of the local Peoples in Defense of Land and Water Front (FPDTA) and community radio station Amilzinko. He was slain by unknown gunmen in an attack at his home in the village of Amilcingo, Temoac municipality. He was a longtime figure in local opposition to the planned Huexca power plant and associated natural-gas pipeline, pushed by the government under the Morelos Integral Project (PIM).

Newly elected Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador called the murder "vile" and "cowardly," but said the vote would take place as planned. The FPDTA had written a letter to López Obrador warning him that the referendum would lead to violence in their communities.

The PIM was first proposed in 2011, but put off following protests over its impacts on local lands and waters. It had recently been revived by López Obrador as a means of reducing electricity prices. The new president has also called for referenda on such controversial projects as a new airport for Mexico City and the Maya Train throughout southern Mexico—both opposed by impacted campesino communities. The airport project was defeated, while the Maya Train was approved in a vote with very low turn-out and the opposition to the project boycotting. Those two referenda were held in October and November, respectively, before López Obrador's Dec. 1 inauguration, but were convened by his campaign. He pledged to respect the results despite their non-binding nature. (EcoWatch, Feb. 21; Somos el Medio, Mexico City, Feb. 20; Jurist, Nov. 28; Al Jazeera, Oct. 29)