Two Years After The Death of Activist Samir Flores Soberanes: The Fight For Justice Continues

Ruptura Colectiva (RC), CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the early Wednesday morning of February 20th, 2019, the community of Amilcingo in the Morelos state of Mexico was shaken by great tragedy. Samir Flores Soberanes, 30, was called out of his home and two out of four bullets had ended his life. To this day, no one knows the names or the faces of who murdered him. Regardless, he continues to be one of the greatest forces in Mexico’s war between industrial projects and defenders of the natural world.

For many years, Samir was an Indigenous land defender with Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y Agua (FPDTA), also known as the People’s Front in Defense of Land and Water, for the states of Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcala. In Morelos, they are known to be against the development project called Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM). The project involves two thermoelectric plants and an interstate gas pipeline. The activists fear it would cause water shortages for the local communities and present safety concerns outside of contamination and pollution.

On the day before his murder, Samir had coincidentally participated in a forum arguing against PIM towards the federal delegate. This was specifically about a thermoelectric plant that was to be built in Huexca. The media would not only point this out as something notable but also mention that there was a referendum set to take place only days after his death about the project.

When it came to the investigation, the state government and prosecutor claimed that the murder was not related to the project by any means and was being investigated through the lens of organized crime among other things.

His fellow activists would argue that there is indeed a connection, however.

According to a communique the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) released to the public, the environmental group had sent an open letter days before to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. There they had mentioned that his support for the project and ultimately discrediting them would lead to much more violence. Other than writing that his lack of action to work with the communities resulted in this tragedy, they also added the struggles that their fallen comrade had faced in the past from speaking out about PIM. They detailed that he had been threatened since 2012 and that he was both defamed and singled on the Internet. In the end, there were demands to find and punish those responsible and protect all those who oppose the project.

Responding to Samir’s assassination, Lopez Obrador mentioned that while he was sorry about the death, the project would still proceed (as voted).

Nonetheless, PIM is still waiting to start construction — even in 2021.

The FPDTA has now resorted to other legalities that continue to suspend the Huexca plant from being constructed, which they mention prevents other industrial projects from being made in the area too.

It doesn’t mean that it’s been a peaceful two years for the group, though. In the latter part of 2019, the National Guard and other authorities had attacked defenders on two different occasions with rubber bullets and tear gas in Puebla. In the following January, a member of FPDTA, Miguel Lopez Vega, was detained when leaving the Government Directorate from the state of Puebla under allegedly having or intending to use weapons during a peaceful protest he was a part of in 2019. Regardless, the movement itself continues to stand strong and dignified with their resistance.

As for Samir receiving justice, that day has yet to come.

His comrades are also convinced that whoever is truly responsible will not be known and brought to trial any time soon due to current political powers.

The National Indigenous Congress in conjoint with the Indigenous Governance Council (CNI-CIG) conducted three days of activities in honor of Samir in 2020. In solidarity, international movements formed their own events and protests as well.

The base of a monument in Mexico City after a protest. Written in black are the words, “Samir Lives!”. In the middle, the red graffiti is read, “Assassin”. Photograph by Luis Alvaz, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85898097

This year the movement released a letter written to Samir that detailed many things that have happened in 2020, plans for 2021, and a call-for-action for national and international protests on the anniversary of his death.

You can read the letter here (in English).

“They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were the seeds.” Roots down, sprout up.