The Leones traditionally operated along Guatemala’s eastern border with Honduras and El Salvador, and were car thieves and cattle rustlers before entering the drug trade. Their influence and power, however, has been on the decline.
The Leones, headed by Juan Jose “Juancho” Leon Ardon, were initially involved in trafficking along the Salvadoran border. They later allied with the Gulf Cartel to traffick cocaine, and also began focusing on robbing cocaine shipments from other groups — such as the Mendozas and Lorenzanas — that were traveling through Zacapa.
Drug transit, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, prostitution rings
Principal criminal groups
MS13, Barrio 18, CIACS, Lorenzanas, Mendozas, Leones
Once considered one of the most powerful and violent families in Guatemala, the Leones have since gone underground. On March 25, 2008, Zeta gunmen killed 11 members of the Leon clan in Zacapa, including Juancho (pictured), one of the group’s leaders.
The reasons for this battle are not altogether clear. One theory is that the Mendozas and the Lorenzanas schemed to get rid of the Leones using the Zetas, an agreement dubbed the “Pacto de Peten.” Alternatively the massacre could have resulted from a broken Leones-Zetas alliance.
The Leones continued to operate under the leadership of Juancho’s brother, Haroldo, until he was murdered (allegedly by the Zetas) in 2011. Currently, very little of the organization appears to remain, with the Zetas having assumed control of the group’s former activities.
The Leones were originally led by Juan Jose “Juancho” Leon Ardon, until his murder in 2008. Juancho’s brother, Haroldo, took over the organization until his own death in 2011.
The Leones primarily operated in the south of Guatemala along the El Salvador and Honduras border.
Allies and Enemies
The group allied itself with the Gulf Cartel. However, the Leones’ theft of drug shipments earned it enemies in the Mendozas and Lorenzanas, as well as the Zetas.
Following the death of its leaders, very little of the Leones organization appears to be functioning today.