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Indigenous land defender killed in Mexico days before referendum on controversial gas pipeline

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Indigenous Náhuatl land and water defender Samir Flores Soberanes was a vocal opponent of the "Proyecto Integral Morelos" (the integral project for Morelos) in Mexico.

The project includes the construction of the 160-kilometre Morelos Gas Pipeline that would start in the state of Tlaxcala and run to the town of Huexca (in the state of Morelos) where it would supply a proposed gas-fuelled thermoelectric plant.

A 12-kilometre long aqueduct would also be constructed to draw water from Apatlaco, Cuautla and other communities to cool the turbines of the thermoelectric plant.

Thirty-year old Flores was shot early Wednesday morning in his home in the campesino declared Zapatista community of Amilcingo (which is located near Huexca) about 100 kilometres south of Mexico City. He later died in a nearby hospital.

He was one of the leaders of the "Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y el Agua" (the People’s Front in Defence of the Land and Water) which opposes the construction of the thermoelectric plant over concerns it could contaminate water supplies.

The mostly Indigenous communities of Amilcingo and Huexca are also situated near the Popocatepetl Volcano, an active volcano (in the states of Puebla and Morelos) that the pipeline would pass.

A referendum will take place on the project on February 23-24, but communities opposed that because it fails to prioritize the Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

They have now also asked that the referendum be suspended following the murder of Flores.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador supports the project and has said he will ask the National Water Commission (Conagua) to certify that the wastewater produced by the plant is safe and that it will be returned to communities for agricultural use.

Just days ago, Obrador visited Cuautla (25 kilometres west of where Flores lived in Amilcingo) and called those who oppose the project "radical leftists who, in my view, are just conservatives."

Now Obrador has stated that the murder of Flores wasn’t politically-motivated and officials are investigating criminal gangs in the area. The People's Front in Defence of the Land and Water rejects this assertion.

Communities have asked that a solar panel factory be constructed rather than the gas pipeline-thermoelectric plant project being built by Spanish and Italian companies.

You can read more here on the death of Flores and community opposition to the project from the Mexican activist group Educa Oaxaca (who Peace Brigades International brought to Toronto and Ottawa for a speaking tour in November 2018).

Image: Twitter

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