Last weekend, the small Mexican state of Morelos, a few kilometers south of Mexico City, was the scene of popular and indigenous initiatives and mobilizations. On Friday, February 19, a demonstration was held in the Morelos capital of Cuernavaca, on Saturday a mass and ceremony took place in the community of Amilcingo, and on Sunday the “National and International Encounter for Life, Water Defense, Against the Coronavirus and Against Mega-Projects” was held in the municipality of Huexa. Similar initiatives took place at the same time farther south, in reclaimed lands and Zapatista autonomous municipalities in Chiapas. The reason for the mobilizations was the second anniversary of the murder of the young activist Samir Flores Soberanes by paramilitaries.
February 20, 2021, marks exactly two years since the death of Samir Flores, the face and voice of the Amilcingo radio station, a pueblo struggling to defend its political autonomy according to the customs and traditions of the Nahuatl, and promoting community projects such as a healthcare brigade and an autonomous elementary school.
Samir was fighting in a land where the memory of General Emiliano Zapata is still alive. He was born in Ciudad Ayala, a few kilometers from Amilcingo, and was active in those lands during the glorious and tragic times of the Mexican Revolution, when the communities of the area gave life to a social experiment in land distribution and self-government that the historian Adolfo Gilly called the “Commune of Morelos.”
Samir Flores was also a militant revolutionary, a social leader of the Peoples’ Front in Defense of Land and Water of the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala (FPDTA), itself part of the National Indigenous Congress, where Samir was a delegate, working side by side with the EZLN.
Before dawn on February 20, 2019, Samir Flores was killed in an ambush, just as General Zapata had been killed 100 years earlier. He left behind a widow and four young children. The FPDTA was set up to stop a major project, the Morelos Integral Project (PIM). The latter consists of two thermoelectric power plants and a gas pipeline, which extends along the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala and crosses the ejidos, or collective lands, of 60 peasant and indigenous communities, and threatens to dry up the water sources on which local communities depend.
Conceived during the governments of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, today the PIM is a pillar of the so-called Fourth Transformation, the political project promoted by Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his progressive party, the Movimento di Rigerneración Nacional (MORENA). Although the objective of this transformation is to bring about a transition towards a more transparent and democratic management of the state and measures of redistribution of wealth towards the popular classes, from an economic point of view it is based on the creation of logistic corridors, special economic zones and infrastructure projects, with heavy impacts on the lives of local communities, the environment and the quality of work.
This is how we can read not only the revival of the PIM, but also greenfield projects such as the Tren Maya between Chiapas and Yucatán and the trans-isthmic corridor between Oaxaca and Veracruz, whose goal is to create a land alternative to the Panama Canal for intermodal trade between the two oceans.
On February 10, 2019, ten days before the death of Samir Flores, Obrador had announced a popular consultation to formalize consent with respect to the Huexca thermoelectric plant, part of the PIM, which was actually already under construction. Samir had been one of the dissenting voices and, according to his wife, Liliana Velazquez, one day before being killed he had taken part in a conversation with a delegate of the federal government in which he had protested against the “lies” about the projects.
His death came at the hands of strangers who shot him in the head on his doorstep, three days before the plebiscite in Huexca. In spite of the climate of violence, threats and Samir’s murder, the vote was held anyway, and not only in the localities affected by the project, but—in defiance of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization—in a much wider territory, including neighboring towns such as Cuautla, where urban dwellers voted in favor of the continuation of the work. One of those supporting the struggle in Cuautla against the construction of the PIM is Jorge Zapata Gonzalez, grandson of the historic leader of the Mexican revolution.
After two years, the investigations into Samir’s death are still at a standstill, and the material perpetrators as well as the principals remain unknown. The execution of the Nahua activist has become a symbol of the contradictions in Obrador’s policies and a sign of continuity with previous governments, unable to guarantee the safety of activists. Samir Flores has become one of the faces of the people in Mexico who are fighting in defense of their land. For this reason, the people united in the National Indigenous Congress, together with the Zapatista communities, have launched the campaign “Samir Lives,” installing the stone bust of Samir in Zocalo Square, in front of the seat of government.
Meanwhile, the construction of the PIM continues, despite the appeals of the communities that are claiming the right to decide on their own territories, and thanks to the repressive action of the National Guard, which on November 23 cleared away the protesters who were preventing the construction of the last section of the pipeline and the activation of the thermoelectric plant.
The words spoken by Samir during the final interview he gave a few days before his death, to the magazine Piè de Pagina, sound prophetic today: “This reminds me of those years when Madero took power and turned his back on General Zapata. Once he took power, he said: let me work, I will do things as I see fit.”
Today, the memory of Zapata and Samir remains alive in the struggles against the extractive model throughout the country. A delegation of the FPDTA, of which Samir was part, will travel this summer to Europe together with the Zapatista caravan, to forge new alliances and fly the flag of the struggle of resistance which, despite the repression by the state, continues to sow seeds of revolt across the land.