By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Despite angry protests over the weekend and the as-of-yet unsolved Feb. 20 murder of the leader of an opposition movement against it, the opening of a controversial new hydroelectric plant in the central state of Morelos is set to continue as planned, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said Monday, Feb. 25.
Announcing the results of a two-day regional referendum that included the residents in the states of Morelos, Tlaxcala and Puebla – all of which will be affected by the completed but-not-yet-operational, state-owned Huexca hydroelectric plant, which is part of the economically moribund Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) – AMLO said that more than 53,000 people had participated in the voting process and that 59.5 percent had voted in favor of the plant’s opening.
“(The voting process) was a success because we know that in the last administraitn, this project was imposed without the public being consulted,” López Obrador said in his daily early morning press conference at the National Palace.
“There was repression and an entire movement developed against the thermoelectric plant and the gas duct (that links it to surrounding areas), but we have to confront this matter because it is a project that cost 25 million pesos.”
Opponents of the plant, which was constructed during the previous administration of Enrique Peña Nieto but never put into operation because of concerns by local residents, say that it could severely damage the surrounding environment and disrupt the daily working activities of residents.
AMLO warned that if the plant is not opened, residents in the three states will have to pay “elevated prices” for electricity.
Morelos is the only state in Mexico without its own source of electric energy, which means that all its electricity must be imported at a heavy cost for consumers and factories.
The president began using “public consults” – loosely monitored polling referendums – even before taking office, holding a 10-point ”consulta” in which included the cancelation of a partially completed $13 billion airport project for Mexico City, one of his first acts after taking office on Dec. 1.
Hugo Eric Flores, federal government delegate for the state of Morelos, pointed out that in this referendum, the turnout was higher that in the case of the airport, where he said only an estimated 50,000 people cast ballots.
Flores also said that there were only two acts of violence during the voting process, one in Temoac, Morelos, where a ballot box was burned, and one in Cuernavaca, Morelos, where a voting urn was stolen.
Notwithstanding, there were reports of protests throughout the tristate consulting region and across other parts of Mexico against the unsolved murder of plant opposition leader Samir Flores Soberanes, who was shot dead by unknown assailants in front of his Amilcingo, Morelos, home on Feb. 20.
Flores Soberanes, who in addition to being a member of the People’s Front in Defense of Land and Water in Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala, was also the owner of a local community radio station .
There have also been many red flags raised regarding the voting process of AMLO’s referendums, where there seems to be no clear methodology for ensuring that the process is fair and balanced.
Many critics have said that that AMLO’s referendums are politically skewed because they do not represent the majority of voters, the questions are stilted to favor his platform policies, and there is no oversight to ensure that people do not vote more than once.