Mexico City, Feb 25 (EFE).- Voters in several dozen cities in three Mexican states over the weekend approved a controversial power project opposed by grassroots groups and residents of affected communities.
The final tally was 59.5 percent of the ballots cast in favor and 40.1 percent against the Proyecto Integral Morelos, a result that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a project backer, touted in a press conference on Monday.
A total of 55,715 people voted in the referendum, which required a network of 147 election precincts in 60 cities – 36 in Morelos state; 15 in Puebla state; and nine in Tlaxcala state – to stage.
The referendum was “a good exercise in democracy amid a very polarized environment,” Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office in December and is popularly known as AMLO, said.
The president said that previous administrations had moved forward with the project without consulting those affected.
AMLO, however, said he supported the approximately $1 billion project because it would allow the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) to cut its rates.
“We couldn’t let the (power plant) become scrap metal,” the president said, adding that the thermoelectric power plant was “not what people thought, (backed) by foreign businessmen.”
Saturday, the first day of voting, was marked by protests staged by project opponents and low turnout at the polls.
Activists burned ballot boxes, ballots and furniture at one polling place.
The situation was calmer on Sunday and the turnout rose on the second day of the referendum.
Activist Samir Flores, who opposed the CFE power plant, was murdered a few days before the referendum, sparking protests in several places in Mexico by demonstrators demanding justice.
Lopez Obrador condemned Flores’s murder but said the referendum would not be delayed or cancelled, and officials moved ahead with the vote despite the protests.
“We were able to hold this referendum, there were provoctions and efforts were made to prevent the vote. And I’m calling on everyone to understand that we can have differences and resolve them through democratic means,” Lopez Obrador, the founder and leader of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), said.
The president, however, said people were atuned to politics and “aware.”
Lopez Obrador said that while the targeted completion date for the plant in Morelos was not yet available, the energy facility’s opening would be accompanied by “development programs in the area” and other projects.
An agreement will be signed with the United Nations to ensure that the plant does not harm the environment, the president said.
“We’re going to sign an agreement with the UN so we can guarantee the residents of Morelos that if the thermoelectric power plant goes into operation, there will be water quality regulations,” the president said at the National Palace last Friday.
Democratic Development and Social Participation Undersecretary Diana Alvarez Maury, for her part, said Monday that she was happy about the “high participation by citizens” in the referendum.
The vote count was conducted with total “transparency” and the incidents reported were “localized,” the federal official said.
The Proyecto Integral Morelos, whose construction started during the 2006-2012 administration of President Felipe Calderon, will cause water, air and soil pollution in a largely agricultural area, experts said.