Palmarito residents block the Puebla-Orizaba highway today. Palmarito residents block the Puebla-Orizaba highway today.

Army-huachicoleros clash claims 10 lives

4 soldiers among dead after operation against pipeline thieves in Puebla

An estimated 500 people are blocking the Puebla-Orizaba highway today in protest against a violent clash between federal security forces and presumed pipeline thieves that killed 10 people last night.


Four soldiers and six presumed criminals died during two confrontations in the community of Palmarito, located in the municipality of Quecholac, one of several that lie within the Red Triangle, notorious for thefts from petroleum pipelines.

Army personnel were responding to a report of a pipeline theft in progress but when they arrived at the scene at 8:15pm the suspected thieves opened fire, killing two soldiers.

Authorities said later that soldiers were unable to return fire because their attackers had taken cover behind women and children.

The soldiers withdrew but returned at 11:00 when they were fired on once again, this time by gunmen travelling in a convoy of trucks. There were no women or children present this time around and the soldiers fired back.

Two more soldiers died in the second clash.

The final toll was six armed civilians dead and 10 soldiers wounded. Twelve people were taken into custody in the operation, in which some 600 soldiers took.


At a press conference today, Puebla Governor Antonio Gali lamented that the criminal presence in the region was “poisoning families and children,” and labeled the civilian attackers as cowards for using women and children as a shield.

“It would be worthwhile for the families of those children and youths to consider whether the economic resources [produced by pipeline theft] are worth risking their death.”

He said the operations to curtail the thefts would continue.

The official version of events is being rejected today by some Palmarito residents, who claim the military opened fire on innocent people who were fleeing a swarm of bees, mistakenly thinking they were huachicoleros, or pipeline thieves, trying to get away.

Stealing petroleum products has become an important source of income for many families in the region, and a culture has even grown around the practice.

Source: Milenio (sp), Reforma (sp), Sin Embargo (sp)

Stories from our archives that you might enjoy

  • K. Chris C.

    The government killed several victims of their plundering and subjugation that had the gall to attempt to steal something back from the government.

    An American citizen, not US subject.

    • Geoffrey Rogg

      It is none of our business. What goes on in Mexico if for Mexicans to praise or criticize, we can only be spectators.

      Also an American citizen who knows that Mexico was corrupted first by Europeans and later by Americans and Canadians, leaving the country destabilized.

  • Dennis Hoppe

    Does any one know if Mexico runs it’s pipelines above ground or are they buried underground like in the U.S. ?

    • Geoffrey Rogg

      It makes little difference, they can still be accessed if if buried. They could be protected, there is plenty of technology available to do this but it is very, very expensive and would have to be financed.

      • Dennis Hoppe

        Pipeline thefts are relatively rare in the United States, where most equipment is buried at least five feet underground. Still, there are plenty of long, unguarded stretches of pipeline. Much of the maintenance and inspection is done with robots called “pigs” that travel through the pipelines on their own. Live workers are few and far between.

        In the early 1980’s, a sophisticated gang tapped into a 16-inch oil pipeline buried in California. They leased tanker trucks and hooked up their own underground pipe to the existing system. The scheme netted 10 million gallons of crude oil over a three-year stretch, until the company began to notice regular and repeating drops in pipeline pressure. (Pipe sensors have trouble detecting small or irregular changes in flow.)

    • Güerito

      It’s a combination of both, with most being underground. It’s pointless to talk about more sophisticated means to detect or stop it, since it’s agreed by all that Pemex workers and officials are involved in the illegal thefts.