Based in Guatemala’s northern-most province of Peten, the Mendozas mainly ran contraband before becoming one of Central America’s drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).
Following the death of the family’s patriarch, four brothers are said to have taken control of the family’s licit and illicit business: Walter Obdulio Mendoza Mata, Milton Oswaldo, Edwin Alfredo, and Haroldo. The family’s operations have traditionally been based in its hometown of Morales, which lies along the road running from the Honduran border to northern Guatemala. The family owned large tracts of land, and, in addition to drug trafficking, has been implicated in anti-union violence against local farm workers.
Drug transit, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, prostitution rings
Principal criminal groups
MS13, Barrio 18, CIACS, Lorenzanas, Mendozas, Leones
The Mendozas made their fortune from contraband and drug smuggling, and were once considered to be protected by well-placed contacts in Guatemalan political circles. Former President Alvaro Colom once remarked the Mendozas were the among the “narcos that nobody touches.” A mayor in Peten province — where the drug trafficking organization is based — reportedly received campaign donations in 2011 from the Mendozas after he shelled out nearly $2 million on a stadium for a soccer team owned by the family.
However, the Mendozas lost key territories following the incursion of Mexican criminal group the Zetas into Guatemala, and many members of the drug clan are thought to have fled the country.
The alleged leader of the Mendozas, Haroldo Mendoza Matta, was arrested outside Guatemala City on November 20, 2014, as part of a massive security force operation that also produced the capture of nine other suspected members of the group.
Another brother, Walter Obdulio Mendoza Mata, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for money laundering in May 2019. His four children were sentenced to six years.
The Mendozas’ base of operations is in Peten, the northern-most province of Guatemala that lies along borders with Belize and Mexico.
Allies and Enemies
The Mendozas sought political alliances with powerful members of the government and strategic alliances with other DTOs in the country. This may have included a short-lived agreement that some called the “Pacto de Peten” between themselves and the Lorenzanas to split the country north from south and push out the rival Leones, who they believed were responsible for stealing much of their merchandise. According to some Guatemalan sources, they used hired guns to attack the Leones, supposedly bringing in feared Mexican group the Zetas, who in March 2008, assassinated Juancho Leon in the Zacapa province. This strategy, however, backfired, and the Zetas co-opted territory in southeastern and central Guatemala.
Much of the Mendoza clan is thought to have left Peten, or to be regularly using Belize as a refuge. Nonetheless, they are also believed to have the best contacts in Guatemala’s government.