Friday, October 16, 2009


All adoption cases started before December 31, 2007 and registered at the National Council of Adoptions (CAN) before February 13, 2008, are allowed to be processed and finalized according to the notarial system. Unfortunately, the CNA does not want to step aside of the grandfathered cases, to try to justify the small number of adoptions they have finalized in almost two years of its existence. First, they set up the “verification court” with the collaboration of the PGN and of the DA, to interview all the birthmothers and legal guardians of the children being adopted under the old laws. Clearly, neither the DA nor the CNA have anything to do with those adoptions, because they are neither crimes to investigate nor adoptions under the new law, but that did not stop either of them to keep using grandfathered adoptions to justify that they are not doing what they are meant to do.

In Guatemala, prostitution is legal, but it is not legal to operate brothels and much less, to exploit underage girls in those places. The Unit Against Traffic of People, of the District Attorney, supposedly works to protect people from any kind of exploitation and especially of the sexual kind, but instead of doing so, it devotes the best part of their efforts to try to find felonies in adoption processes, even if they already were approved by the PGN. Meanwhile, brothels are still open and girls are being shipped from all over the world to cater all their clients, but especially from other countries in Central America, where many girls are lured with offers of legal employment, just to find out when they get to Guatemala that they are forced into prostitution. But as it happens with drugs, the people who have interests in this kind of illegal activity are very powerful and it is very dangerous to go against them. It is safer to accuse lawyers and especially female lawyers, knowing that we are not going to shoot at them if they come after us. The DA has many adoption files, where they are trying to build cases against the lawyers who handled them. The DA agents spend countless hours investigating how many times the lawyers have traveled abroad, digging out personal and financial information about them and a lot of irrelevant data that has no bearing with the case. The consent of the birth mother is not taken into account, pictures and videos and even DNA results of tests done at the relinquishment of the children, offered by the lawyers to help with the investigation are rejected, because that can prove that everything is legal and what would they do to build the cases then.

The CNA offices take two floors of a new building located on Avenida Reforma, across the street from the American Embassy. Their offices are crawling with employees and there are stacks of official looking papers everywhere on sight. For an entity that has been working for less than two years and who did as little as 54 adoptions last year an even less this year and who has not even issued the regulations required by the Adoptions Law, the manpower and the paperwork displayed do not match its results. The president of the CNA claims that the lack of funds is detrimental for their work. They seem to forget that they can charge for their services when they do adoptions to foreigners, but of course, that would mean to actually have to work and why bother when their survival is guaranteed by those who do not want adoptions of Guatemalan children.

The recently appointed Attorney General was welcomed to his new post by the letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sent by 52 US lawmakers, urging the US DOS to expedite Guatemalan adoptions. His response was to appoint an Adoptions Unit formed by three PGN lawyers and three CNA lawyers to review the “irregular adoptions” as they are commonly called by the Prensa Libre. To appoint CNA lawyers to review the grandfathered adoption processes is a big mistake, because not only those adoptions do not fall under the scope of their activities, but the CNA lawyers are programmed to oppose adoptions in general and notarial adoptions in particular. The Attorney General appointed other two PGN lawyers to help to review the cases. They should start by asking the DA to return those files where no felonies have been committed, to approve them right away and let those children move on with their lives. The PGN is quoted as having trouble in “recovering all the adoption files”, which only shows that they have no clue as to what are they supposed to do with the files. The PGN has three days to give an opinion and it should not send the file to the Unit of Childhood, because the first thing they do is to appoint an investigator who does not do much and the file ends up at the DA.

The CNA is urging the families whose adoptions are stalled to communicate their situation to the PGN and to the CNA. Since they have no power over notarial processes, it is useless to do so. It is better to complain directly to the Attorney General about your case and let him know the number and date of entry of your case and all the related information. His name is Guillermo Antonio Porras Ovalle and you can address him at

The voices of the adoptive parents still in process need to be heard. When somebody proposed a hunger strike in front of the PGN, many people opposed. When a praying vigil was proposed later, nobody wanted to do it. The demonstration at the Guatemalan Embassy was attended by very few families but it was noted by the Washington Post. It would be wonderful if all the families would make a collective effort to call the attention of the media to the situation of their adoptions that are being delayed simply because they are the reason of being of the jobs of many bureaucrats, who know that as soon as those adoptions are approved by the PGN, their jobs would be in jeopardy, so it is better for them to keep them in the system for as long as it is possible.

The lawmakers who signed the letter to Secretary of State Clinton need to know that their letter did not make a difference. They need to be told that the authorities in Gautemala are still opposing adoptions and that the children being adopted as well as their US adoptive families are still waiting for the release of their files.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


The Aftermath

We thought that the story of Karen Abigail finished for us when the three year old girl was picked up at the orphanage by her adoptive parents, who took her with them to their home in Missouri, USA, on December 9, 2008. We learned later that the story was far from being over. Some months after Karen Abigail had left Primavera, in March, 2009, a judge and a group of policemen went to the orphanage, which is located in zone ten of Guatemala City, just a block away from the buildings that house the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Education, with a habeas corpus order to find Karen Abigail.

The habeas corpus petition was filed by Loyda, a woman who claims that in the registration forms of the grandfathered adoptions at the National Council of Adoptions, she recognized the picture of Karen Abigail as her daughter who was stolen from her in November, 2006. Those forms had been there since February, 2008 and Loyda had reviewed them several times, and for a good part of the previous year, she was convinced that she had found her daughter in the picture of another girl, named Dulce Maria. Loyda was acting under the legal direction of one of the lawyers who work for Fundacion Sobrevivientes, whose director, Norma Cruz has been very outspoken against adoptions, although the scope of her entity is domestic violence.

When the judge with the warrant for the raid of the orphanage showed up at Primavera, I was called by Enriqueta, the director of the orphanage, who asked me to talk to the judge, because she was not at the orphanage and she could not come right away. My office is very close to the orphanage and I help the children who become abandonment cases, so I quickly went to the Primavera orphanage and explained to the judge that Karen Abigail already left with her parents, about four months before. The judge looked everywhere, calling Karen Abigail by a name that I had not heard before: Anyeli Liseth. When he was convinced that Karen Abigail was not at the orphanage, he left. Again, we thought that it was the end of it, since it would have been useless to continue looking for a child who was already adopted and no longer in Guatemala.

At the beginning of April, 2009, while I was spending some time with my family, away from our home in Guatemala City, I got a phone call from Francisca, one of the caregivers of the orphanage, to tell me that the orphanage was being raided by the District Attorney and the Police, who were looking for Karen Abigail. As soon as I hung up, I got another call from someone at my office, to let me know that it was being raided too, and then another call from my house keeper, that armed men wanted to get in, and that they had a raid warrant. A little bit later, I got a similar call from the director of the orphanage located in Palin, a small city in the highway to the Pacific Coast, where the children who had been abandoned by their parents awaited a ruling from the Court of Minors, either declaring them adoptable, or sending them back to their birth families if, in fact, the child was reclaimed by them.

That simultaneous raid of four places, took no less than one hundred men, four hours and at least twenty vehicles, not to mention the time that it must have taken to organize it. The result was easily expected: Karen Abigail was not found. Because as the DA already knew, she had left Guatemala with her adoptive parents, on December 9, 2008, to live in Missouri, the place of residence of her new family. In general terms, the raid was done in a polite manner, except for the fact that the DA brought to the raid a computer technician who checked all the computers at my office, crashing the hard disk of all of them, except for the one that was impounded. They also took everything related with another girl also named Karen Abigail, but who has nothing to do with the girl they were looking for. As well, they planted evidence that was not found at Primavera, but that was photographed as if it was found at the orphanage. That is to say, the pictures of the girl that Loyda had been showing everywhere claiming that it was her missing daughter and the cedula (ID document) of Loyda, the alleged mother of Karen Abigail. At my office, we are still looking for files and documents that were not among the documents the DA listed as impounded but that were at my office before the raid and after the raid are nowhere to be found.

Over the phone, I talked to the agent in charge of the raids, named Oscar Rivas, offering him any assistance I could provide. A lawyer who has his office a couple of blocks away from the orphanage was called by a mutual friend, to go to the raid and to talk to the agent Rivas. At the time, the DA people who were raiding the orphanage in Palin wanted to remove the nine children who were there, arguing that Primavera did not have the right to have an orphanage in that city. The lawyer showed agent Rivas the by-laws of the association where it says that it is, in fact, allowed to establish homes for children anywhere in Guatemala and the court orders that authorized the orphanage to shelter the children at the Primavera orphanage in Palin. The DA people had to desist and left the children at the orphanage, but leaked to the press the false news that the children had been removed from the orphanage because it was an illegal crib house, which is entirely not true.

A few days later, Enriqueta, the director of Primavera and I, went to the abandonment hearing of a little girl at the Escuintla Court of Minors, and when the hearing was over, the DA agent Oscar Rivas approached me, asking me about Karen Abigail. I requested her abandonment file to one of the court clerks and right there, agent Rivas and I examined the file, page by page, and he could see that the process was totally according to the law.

When the DA agent Rivas talked to me about the investigation of a girl named Anyeli Liseth, whose mother, Loyda, was one of the mothers supported by Fundacion Sobrevivientes, I said to him: "You have to do a DNA test to be sure that Karen Abigail is the same child as Anyeli Liseth and even if the DNA proves that they are the same girl, you have to check all the facts regarding the kidnapping. If the parents did not file a Police complaint the very same day, it must be because there was no kidnapping." Rivas said that they could not do a DNA of Loyda, "Because Sobrevivientes does not want to". As I started reading the documents of the trial, I became convinced that there was no kidnapping and that Anyeli's parents relinquished her or at least pretended to relinquish her, and in order to get her back, if they would want to do so, they filed the complaint at the Police station, the day after they claimed that Anyeli disappeared. Loyda has given two other versions of how her child disappeared, different from the version that the father of Anyeli gave to the Police. The Police investigator in charge of the disappearance of Anyeli Liseth died of asphyxia by immersion in April, 2007 and the original file with the picture of Anyeli brought by her father disappeared. It was replaced with copies brought by the DA who also provided a picture of the girl, who looks a lot older than the toddler who was Anyeli at that time.

The Criminal Process

The Ministerio Publico (District Attorney) has brought different charges (traffic of persons for irregular adoption, conspiracy, use of false documents) against the judge who ruled the abandonment of Karen Abigail, the PGN lawyers who acted in the abandonment process and in the adoption process, the lawyers who acted in the first adoption and the notary of the second adoption and the director of Association Primavera. Until August, the MP brought charges against Marvin Josúe Bran Galindo, for traffic of persons. He was linked to the process and allowed to post bail for less than ten thousand dollars. Petitions to grant the same privilege to Enriqueta, the director of Primavera have been rejected.

Because the DA would not ask for it, the defense of the director of Primavera, requested the court to do the DNA test of Loyda. The results proved that she was the mother of the girl who was DNA tested as "Karen Abigail" and who turned out to be her daughter Anyeli Liseth. The analysis of the DNA results of Felicita, Anyeli and Loyda proved that Felicita and Anyeli are paternal aunt and niece, and Anyeli and Loyda are daughter and mother. It was done by PTC Laboratories in Columbia, MO.

Since we do not have all the pieces of the puzzle, we do not know why it is that Loyda is claiming Anyeli to be her daughter, the girl we knew as Karen Abigail, when we know that Anyeli and Karen are two different girls. We say that they are not the same, because we know what Karen looks like and she is not the girl in the picture taken at the DNA test. Also, the Primavera caregivers agreed that the girl in that picture is not Karen and since she tested positive as Loyda's daughter, she must be Anyeli Liseth. Therefore, there never has been a DNA of Karen Abigail, who is the girl living in Missouri. It would help to settle this matter if we could get her DNA tested, to prove that she is a different girl than Anyeli Liseth and that she is not Loyda's daughter. Unfortunately, when her parents were approached by the Guatemalan Consulate, they said that they would talk to their lawyer and stopped accepting calls. They hired a lawyer who does not want to collaborate, for reasons that I cannot understand, since it is in the best interest of the family who hired her, to clear things up, in order to be assured that nobody is going to show at their doorstep, demanding that the girl be returned to Guatemala. One may think that it is very unlikely, but the possibility would always be present if they do not establish once and for all that Karen Abigail is not Anyeli Liseth.

This is not the first time that Loyda identified another girl as her daughter, but in this case she is using the pictures of a girl that looks a lot like Karen Abigail, to claim her as her lost daughter. Loyda justifies her inability at identifying Karen Abigail at the PGN interviews, by saying that the PGN employees asked her to leave the premises because her two boys were dirtying the floor, which is extremely hard to believe, since the parade of children being adopted was exclusively for the benefit of the mothers of missing children. She identified other girls as her daughter, whose adoptions were stopped. One of them is a girl named Dulce Maria, who was identified by Loyda as her daughter and who was removed from the orphanage where she was being cared for, despite the positive DNA of that girl and her birth mother.

There are many unsolved mysteries here: Since both girls look so different, why is Loyda claiming Karen Abigail as her daughter? Is she being compensated to pose as the grieving mother of Karen Abigail? Does she know where her daughter, Anyeli Liseth, actually is? From the DNA picture, Anyeli's parents must know who the woman is who went with Anyeli to that DNA test and why is it that they are not filing charges against her? Why is it that the District Attorney’s office will not even consider changing their position against the people who did the second adoption, since we had nothing to do with Anyeli Liseth, only with Karen Abigail? Why is it that the DA is treating the facilitator as a protected witness, when he admitted that he paid for Karen Abigail and he was the one who did the first attempted adoption? He’s who took the woman and the girl to the DNA test instead of Karen Abigail and her birth mother and yet he is cleared off the case after the DNA results turned out negative. Why? Doesn’t he have culpability here?

The whole case seems to be fabricated to implicate innocent people in several crimes. Meanwhile, the director of Primavera and the PGN lawyer who gave his favorable opinion to the abandonment ruling, are still in jail after more than four months! The seventeen children who were at the Primavera orphanage were abducted and taken to three different orphanages after the PGN decided that they were at risk, "because the director is in jail" How absurd, considering the five nannies who care for them during the day and the four who care for them in the night shift. So their adoptions are being investigated and their waiting families are wondering if they will ever become the parents of those children that they already love as their own. All these problems could be solved -- if only the family of Karen would allow her to be DNA tested. It is a pity that they are ill-advised and hurting so many people by refusing to do so. They have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Wouldn’t it be nice to be sure that your daughter is not involved in this?

We have asked the DA to investigate further into the possibility that Karen and Anyeli are actually two different girls. We showed him the pictures of the two very different looking girls and begged him to ask Loyda who is the woman with her daughter in the DNA picture, and to DNA test Felicita. Felicita was located by the DA, and she claims that she had nothing to do with Karen Abigail, or with Anyeli Liseth, because her identity was stolen to record her birth and to go to the DNA. Thus far the DA has investigated the people they want to accuse of several crimes in connections with this case, ignoring finding the truth with many possible leads. We can only assume it’s because they do not want to exonerate us.

As an adoptive parent myself, I cringe at the possibility that someone would put the adoption of either of my children in jeopardy. But if I knew that the lives of so many good people are upside down because I refuse to let my child be DNA tested, especially knowing beforehand that there is nothing to lose and a lot to gain, I would not hesitate one second to take my child to the lab and have her tested right away. It’s the right thing to do.

We have been informed by the court that the DA wants Enriqueta to stand trial. Even though, in criminal cases, when there are doubts, like in this case tha there are doubts about the identity of Karen Abigail, it must be interpreted in favor of the accused. Not to mention the fact that all she did was comply with the court's ruling to place Karen Abigail for adoption. She broke no law, but she would have if she had disobeyed the order to place Karen Abigail up for adoption.

Thus far, both the DA and the judge have not changed their position despite the evidence presented by the defense of Enriqueta, namely, the picture of the girl taken at the DNA that does not match the face of the girl we know as Karen Abigail, the analysis done by PTC Laboratories that proves the kinship of Felicita to Anyeli, and the affidavit with the deposition under oath of the Primavera caregivers stating that the picture of the girl at the DNA is not of Karen Abigail.

As adoptive parents of a child of unknown origin, the MO couple must be responsible for the consequences of adopting a child in that situation and allow their daughter to be DNA tested. PTC Laboratories is located in MO, not far away from the place where they live, but the specimens can be collected at a nearby lab. The results would be matched with those of the girl first tested, and since the MO couple has a copy of those results, they would be the first to know if there is a match. If there is a match, that does not affect the current situation, since the authorities here are acting as if Karen and Anyeli were the same girl. But if the DNA results prove that Karen is not Anyeli, that would greatly help the people who took care of Karen Abigail and those who made her adoption possible. But most important, it would be the right thing to do.

Because the judge did not agree with the petitions filed by the MP to issue a warrant for the arrest of the notary of the adoption of Karen Abigail and for my own arrest, the Sobrevivientes lawyers requested the CICIG (a United Nations entity to oversee the processes for organized crime) to eliminate her of the list of candidates to be elected magistrates of the court of appeals by Congress. The judge did not like it and declared herself enemy of Sobrevivientes. We still do not know if the hearings scheduled on Monday, October 12th., to decide if Enriqueta goes to trial and our arraignment, on Tuesday, October 13th., will take place.


Saturday, October 10, 2009


The Relinquishment

Karen Abigail was a two year old girl who was brought on January 2, 2007, by her mother, a woman named Felicita Antonia, to Marvin Josue Bran Galindo, an adoption facilitator in Mixco, a town very close to Guatemala City. This facilitator worked with a Celebrate Children Inc., a Florida based adoption agency, in finding homes for children who needed them. The agency director, Susan Hedberg, referred Karen Abigail to a Missouri family, and her adoption as a relinquishment was started. I have no personal knowledge of either Marvin Josue Bran Galindo or Ms. Hedberg and did not know the lawyers who attempted the adoption of Karen Abigail.

The adoption process was initiated, submitted to Family Court and the social worker appointed by the Family Court interviewed the foster mother, the birthmother and the girl being adopted. The file did not go to the PGN because of the lack of the US Embassy pre approval.

After many delays and excuses, and seven months after Karen Abigail was referred to the Missouri couple, the DNA test was performed until July 9th, 2007, and the results were negative. The consequence was that the adoption could not be finalized because the positive DNA is a requirement of the US embassy to prove that the mother who relinquish the child is actually the birthmother of that child. The PGN, at the request of the adoption attorneys, started requiring the preapproval of the embassy before giving its approval to the adoption process.

After the DNA test failed, the adoptive parents were told that the real mother of Karen Abigail was the sister of the woman who went with her at the DNA test, and that she was going to be persuaded to come forward and to do her daughter’s adoption. This never happened and the offer of another referral was never an option for the devastated adoptive parents, who sought a Missouri lawyer for advice. This lawyer told them to talk to me, to ask me to help them to solve in a legal and ethical way, the situation of abandonment of Karen Abigail.

The adoptive mother also told us that they had been trying to adopt Karen Abigail since the end of November, 2006, when they approached the US adoption agency that was helping them to adopt a boy from Guatemala, after looking at the picture of Karen Abigail on their website and she was told that she and her husband could adopt her, on December 2006. They met Karen Abigail in January 2007, when they came to Guatemala to visit the boy they were then adopting. After referring Karen to the MO couple, for seven months, the Guatemalan facilitator did not do the DNA test, arguing that the midwife's ID was missing, until July 9th, 2007 when the DNA specimens were swabbed at the lab in the Multimedica building in zone 15, and then were analyzed by LabCorp in North Carolina. The DNA test results were negative, but it was obvious that there was a close kinship between the girl tested and the woman pretending to be her mother. Normally, only ten genetic markers are analyzed, but in this case LabCorp analyzed twenty, and only two genetic markers out of the twenty were different between the woman and the girl. This strongly suggests that an aunt of the girl was impersonating the girl's mother and it is highly probable that the aunt could have been helping the biological mother if she had some problem that prevented her from doing the adoption herself, as happens when the mother is married and the child is not the husband's or when the birthmother is underage and she does not want her parents to find out that she had a child. There was nothing to indicate that we were dealing with a case of a stolen child.

According to the former adoption procedure, when the DNA done to the birth mother and child got negative results, the adoption could not proceed any further and the child was either a) returned to the woman who appeared as birthmother or b) the child was presented to the Court of Minors, to be sent to an orphanage, where his chances of being adopted were very slim, or c) it could be, if he child was really lucky, that such child was entrusted to an orphanage that would undertake the uphill battle of getting him a declaration of abandonment. Of course, this only happens after the possibility of finding the real mother of the child is exhausted and only if no relatives claim the child, in which case, the judge would not hesitate to give the child to the birth family.

The Abandonment Process

The Law of Integral Protection of the Childhood and Adolescence states that when the rights of a child are at risk or are being violated, the case must be brought before a judge who has to preside over an oral process to decide the way to restore those rights if the investigation done by the PGN shows that they have been violated or are threatened. The Civil Code states that the director of the orphanages have legal custody of the children under its care since the moment they are admitted at the orphanage and there is no need for a judge to appoint them as legal guardians. Based on those legal provisions, the orphanages have the right to represent the children in matters before the courts. I help Association Primavera with the cases that have to be processed before the Courts of Childhood and adolescence to seek protective measures for the children whose rights have been violated, to help those children to solve their legal situation.

Under the advice of their US lawyer, the adoptive parents of Karen Abigail requested the Celebrate Children International director, to instruct Marvin Bran to order Veronica, the foster mother to present Karen Abigail to the orphanage of Primavera to start her abandonment process, which she did on September 12th. 2007.

The abandonment process started on September 18, 2007, with a petition filed by the director of Primavera under my legal direction, to the Judge of Minors of Escuintla, requesting him to investigate the situation of the girl named Karen Abigail, because her DNA test had negative results and her birthmother could not be located. The petition to the court was to locate her birth mother or her birth family and if that could not be possible, to restore her rights by ordering her adoption and it included all the pertinent documents: a copy of the DNA negative results, the birth certificate of Karen Abigail, copies of the ID documents (cedulas) of Felicita and Veronica and copies of the notarial acts where Karen Abigail was placed first with Veronica as foster mother while her adoption was processed and then, by Veronica to Primavera.

The court ordered Primavera to publish ads in two newspapers with the picture of Karen Abigail, which were published in Siglo Veintiuno and Al Día on October 5th., 2007 stating that the two year old girl was abandoned and summoning her mother to come forward at the Court of Escuintla. The court also ordered the PGN to conduct an investigation to search for the birthmother of Karen Abigail or for a relative who could and would raise her. A hearing that I could not attend, was held on November 6th, 2007. It was attended by Enriqueta, who is the Primavera director, Karen Abigail and a PGN Lawyer acting as deputy delegate of the PGN in Escuintla At that hearing, the PGN lawyer asked the judge to postpone the final ruling, due to the lack of a report from the Missing Persons Division of the National Civil Police, and therefore, another hearing was set for December 5th., 2007, when the PGN delegate submitted a written request to the court stating that since all the investigation was done and the report of the Missing Persons Unit was already in the file, to rule on the matter, declaring the violation of rights of Karen Abigail and to order to restore them through adoption. Accordingly, the court ruled the violation of rights of Karen Abigail to respect, dignity, personal integrity, adequate level of life and to a family, revoking the order of temporary shelter and granting the order to shelter permanently the child at Association Primavera until this entity could include Karen Abigail in an adoption program, ordering it to record its legal custody of Karen Abigail in the birth record of Karen Abigail in the Civil Registry of the Port of Iztapa, Escuintla, where her birth was already recorded.

The Adoption

The notarial adoption of Karen Abigail was started on December 13, 2007 and it was registered at the National Council of Adoptions on February 10, 2008, as a requirement to continue processing the adoption according to the old laws. On April 3rd. 2008, the US embassy gave its pre approval for the visa of Karen Abigail. On February 29th, 2008, the process was filed in court and the social worker of the Family Court who was appointed to the case, did the home study recommending the adoption of Karen Abigail by the MO couple, on May 5th. 2008.

The director of Primavera ratified her consent for the adoption of Karen Abigail by the MO couple on May 8th. 2008, and on May 29th, 2008, the file was submitted at the PGN. The director of Primavera took Karen Abigail to the verification interview with representatives of the PGN and the CNA on July 29th, 2008, where the mothers who were looking for their missing children kept a close watch of all the children being brought to the interviews, in case their missing child was among them. Nobody claimed Karen Abigail.

The PGN gave a favorable opinion on July 28th., 2008, but was released until September 2008. The final deed was signed by the attorney who represented the adoptive prent and by the director of Association Primavera and authorized by the notary who presided over the process, on September 2nd., 2008.

The recording of the adoption was slow because the National Registry of Persons (RENAP) was not fully organized yet and it took two months to record Karen Abigail's adoption and obtain a birth certificate with the names of the adoptive parents on it (needed in order to obtain her passport). After the final deed was signed, the adoptive mother fostered Karen Abigail in Antigua, took her to get the passport and waited with Karen until she and her husband could travel to Missouri on December 9th., 2008.

Her adoptive parents visited Karen several times during her derailed adoption and during her abandonment process and then again during her adoption process. Karen was fostered by her adoptive mother during the last month (November 2008) of her adoption process. It was her adoptive mother who took Karen to get her passport and to her final medical check-up. So there is no possibility whatsoever that either Karen or her records were switched sometime during all that time. The DA has been saying that the passport picture does not match the adoption picture, but that is not true. What looks different is the way her mother did her hair, that makes her look older, but the face is the same, without a doubt.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

There is no plan B for the Guatemalan Children.

October 2, 2009

This is an edited version of a speech that I delivered at the Focus On Adoption conference in Guatemala City, on February 21, 2007, few months before the Adoptions Law was passed by Congress, under the pressure of UNICEF and the US DOS. The attendants were mostly adoption agents from the US and Guatemalan adoption professionals.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Thank you for having me here.

When I learned that I was one of the speakers for this conference, I was at a loss about what could I tell you that you do not already know. I thought about giving you statistics about the high level of poverty, of illiteracy, of malnutrition, of child labor and of children who die of curable diseases, for lack of medical attention. But then I thought that you would forget those numbers right away and just keep the idea that Guatemala is a very poor country, with all the problems that this brings. But that is not the whole story.

Guatemala is a country full of contrasts, and like the sides of a coin, they exist back to back. Let me give you some examples:

- With one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world, Guatemala has a writer. Miguel Angel Asturias, who was awarded the Literature Nobel Prize;

- With 36 years of civil war, we have a Guatemalan who was awarded a Peace Nobel Prize.

- Half of the children of Guatemala suffer chronic malnourishment, which is a moderate form of starvation. However, almost fifty years ago, the Guatemalan Dr. Ricardo Bressani, invented what is known as “Incaparina”, and it is advertised as “a vegetable mix that is delicious as well as highly nutritional. Incaparina is so rich in Vitamins and Minerals that many international food and aid agencies use it to treat protein/calorie malnutrition in infants, children and adults alike.” At very low cost, Incaparina is part of the diet of many people, not only in Guatemala, but in many other countries, but unfortunately, it is in Guatemala where those who really need it, cannot afford it and the government has no budget for its cost free distribution to improve the diet of the malnourished children.

- The poverty of Guatemala is unseen for most of us. When you come to our country, you find a city with many good restaurants, hotels American style, many cars that cause frustrating traffic jams and modern buildings and shopping centers, full of shoppers. But if you go to the country side, you will see what real poverty is. Words cannot begin to describe the living conditions of more than half of the population of this country, who face every day the challenge of surviving without the most basic resources to satisfy their needs.

- Of the half a million children that are born each year, 32 of each thousand will die as infants and 43 of each thousand children will die before their fifth birthday of pneumonia, diarrhea and other curable diseases. Those numbers do not attract the media attention that four thousand adoptions a year do.

- The public hospitals are a total disaster. With no funds to work and very low salaries, the doctors of the public health system went on a strike that lasted a good part of last year, until a ruling of the Supreme Court ordered them to go back to work. The lack of medications, of equipment, of sanitary conditions, make the stay at one of those hospitals a health hazard. On the other hand, all the private hospitals in Guatemala City are being remodeled or new ones are being built, with modern and expensive equipment, to attract the patients who travel to the United States to take care of surgical procedures, from the removal of a mole, to an organ transplant. Doctors who went to specialize in the United States are coming back, to work in Guatemala, but only to those who can afford their fees.

- While the adults find difficult to get a job, almost a million children work in Guatemala to support themselves and help to support their families. Two thirds of them live in poverty and one third in extreme poverty.

- Guatemala is a member to many international conventions that protect intellectual property rights. Accordingly, a couple of weeks ago the District Attorney for Felonies Against Intellectual Property, with the help of several policemen and the army, confiscated illegally burnt cds and movies, sold in the main street of downtown. The result was over a million disks confiscated and five people under arrest. The following days, the editorials of the newspapers were slamming the authorities for “abusing their power” and “preventing those poor people from making a decent living” said the Commissioner against Corruption. “Why beat them when they are already down?” claimed a former minister of Foreign Affairs.

The contrasts are endless. Some of them are – at least to me – impossible to understand. The Guatemalan authorities are very worried about the deportations of illegal immigrants that the United States authorities are doing of thousands of Guatemalans who, braking the Immigration and Labor laws of the United States, try to make a living in that country. But the children who are legally adopted and given the American citizenship, are perceived by the Guatemalan authorities as “a problem” and as “something that should be stopped”. Both, the immigrants and the adopted children have the right to a better life, and both deserve the protection of the authorities. But the people who smuggle the illegal aliens into the United States are not perceived as badly as the adoption attorneys. We are regarded as “a mafia” and accused of “renting bellies to produce babies for adoptions”. The adoptive families are accused of “using the children for organ harvesting” or “for sex slaves” without any evidence to support those allegations. Last year there was an attempt by the District Attorney to regard all adoptions as “sale of children” and to consider as a felony any activity related to placing a child with an adoptive family. We had to remind him that only Congress can make laws and that adoption is protected by the Constitution, so it cannot be considered as a felony. He had to back off, but for a few days, we were facing the possibility of an arrest.

The United States is the country where most of the Guatemalan children are adopted, and to do so we have been fulfilling every requirement that the US embassy in Guatemala deems necessary. Over the years the process to apply for the visa of an adopted child has became increasingly complicated and requires several documents from both countries and a DNA test. Despite the complexity of the process, the number of adoptions from Guatemala is higher every year, at the same time that the adoptions from other Latin American countries are less and less. We were informed by the American Consul that the United States wants Guatemala to implement the Hague Convention or they will close the door to our children. The United States expect to ratify the Hague Convention sometime this year and become bound by the convention three months later, so it is reasonable to expect that it will happen towards the end of 2007, beginning of 2008.

In September last year, Joint Council for International Children’s Services (JCICS) sent a delegation formed by Tom DiFilipo, Director of International Relations – later appointed President and CEO- , Hannah Wallace and Chris Huber. At a dinner that I hosted at my home, we met with all the parties interested in adoptions to find the way to adapt the legislation of Guatemala to the Hague Convention: Asociacion Defensores de la Adopcion, Instituto de Derecho de Familia, Congressmen, lawyers and hogar directors. The Joint Council delegation also met with officers of the Guatemalan government and of the US embassy and with the staff of Wendy de Berger. Even though everybody has a different idea of how the changes must be done, we all have agreed that they are necessary if we want adoptions to the US to remain an option for the children of Guatemala.

The way the Hague Convention is implemented, is up to each country. We were told that the Department of State will not tell us how to do it. We trust that our Congress will do it in a manner consistent with our Constitution and our laws, and taking into consideration the social and economical situation of our country. We do not want one of those laws that in paper look good but when they are applied to real situations, they simply do not work. We believe that the congressmen will be able to find the way to take the good of the Hague Convention and satisfy its requirements without making the children wait more than what they do now.

I am sure that you, as adoption agencies, are asked very often: WILL ADOPTIONS FROM GUATEMALA CONTINUE? The answer is YES. The Congress of Guatemala is aware that a government that cannot provide for its most vulnerable people, the abandoned children, should not get in their way to a better life with a permanent loving family. The people in the United States who would want to adopt a child from Guatemala, but are afraid to start a process, should know that we are here and we will not let the nightmare of 2003 to happen again. We won then and we will make it again, if we need to do so. Unless the social and economic conditions of Guatemala drastically improve, the only way out for many children is adoption. We ask you to keep open your Guatemalan adoption programs and to trust that we will be able to use the legal recourses at our disposal, if the process of adoption is derailed by illegal measures. We are aware that you may open programs in other countries, that in 2004 there were one hundred and forty three million orphaned and abandoned children in 93 developing countries, and that those figures increase every year, and that adopting from Guatemala is not for the faint of heart. But the children of Guatemala who need a family, if they are not adopted, they will either die or be exploited or abused by whoever takes charge of them. The government does not have orphanages or the social welfare structure to provide for them. Adoptions must continue, because there is no plan B for the children of Guatemala.

Thank you. "

In my next posts I will elaborate about the current situation of the children who still don't have a plan B.

Best regards,

Susana Luarca

History of Adoptions in Guatemala

As most lawyers in Guatemala, I did not have anything to do with adoptions, until my life was touched by adoption, many years ago, when I was required by a couple of US friends to help them with the adoption of a little girl who is now married and has a baby of her own. Until an Adoptions Law changed the legal process in December 31st., 2007, the adoption process in Guatemala was handled privately, with the oversight of a Family Court and of the State Attorney. Both had to approve the adoption, before it could be authorized. During the time that it took to get the proper authorizations and to comply with the migration requirements if the adoptive parents resided abroad, the children lived at private orphanages or with foster mothers, which proved to be a good way to care for the children until their parents could take them home.

During many years, those who do not want children from Less Developed Countries to be adopted by families of the First World countries, fought very hard to close down adoptions worlwide, under the pretense of “protecting the children”. Since the unwanted children are invisible to most governments in Guatemala, the only ones who fought to keep adoptions open, were the lawyers, who were accused by the properly rewarded media, of unduly profiting with the lives of the children being adopted. Although Guatemala is in the second tier and in the watch list of the countries who do not properly attack traffic of people for slavery and sexual exploitation, that does not attract the media attention as much as the fact that in a country where everything is an uphill battle, we managed to do more adoptions t o the United States than most other countries, simply because the State intervention in Guatemala was limited to approve the cases and the bureaucrats did not handled the processes. After an aggressive campaign that included threats to the congressmen to cancel their US visas if they did not approve an Adoptions Law designed to make adoptions impossible and with the collaboration of a Constitutional Court whose magistrates rule as they are told, at the end of 2007, the Adoptions Law was approved by Congress and The Hague Convention was resurrected by the Constitutional Court, after being ruled unconstitutional in 2003.

The Hague Convention for international adoptions, as it is commonly referred, is a treaty sponsored by The Hague Conference of International Private Law, that in the surface appears to be a legal frame to adapt the adoptions laws of the countries who are members to that convention, to a set of rules that are meant to protect the children. What it actually does is to close down adoptions on both ends. For many years, the number of children who were adopted from Guatemala was reasonable, according to the US Department of State standards, thanks to the discredit that the adoption attorneys got for devoting themselves to “such activity”. The police raids of the foster homes and the constant harassment of the police and the media exposure, discouraged those who were faint of heart. Gradually, as other countries closed down, thanks to the Hague Convention gaining new territories, Guatemalan was chosen by more adoptive parents because it allowed the adoption of healthy babies, through a legal process that allowed the parents to take their child home within six to eight months, while the children could be visited by their adoptive parents and kept with them at their hotels or even fostered in Antigua, a beautiful colonial city not far from Guatemala City. After staying at out of the way little hotels for many years, the adopting parents started staying at the best hotels, where they did no effort to hide the love and joy that they felt for their Guatemalan children. The lobbies of the hotels started to look crowded with strollers, foster mothers delivering or picking up children, and lawyers talking with the parents and poring over legal documents. It was also due to the harassment of the police, who always looking for a way to extort money from the adopting parents, stalked them near the hotels, waiting for them to take a stroll with their babies, to show up asking for papers (as an adoptive father said: “papers with pictures of US presidents”). That forced them to stay inside of the hotels and since the smaller hotels usually do not have restaurants and swimming pool, the largest and better equipped hotels were chosen for their stay.

For those who believe that adoption is a silent migration, the increase in the number of adoptions became a way to circumvent the rigorous laws that prevent the undesirables to migrate to the United States and Western Europe. The children were being brought into their countries, not by the back door, to be raised devoid of any legal protection, but through the front door, with the responsibility of their governments to watch over them, or to risk the bad publicity that could bring that an adoptive parent did not take good care of their foreign adopted child.

UNICEF was created after the Second World War, as the greatest effort from mankind to help the children in the countries ravaged by the war. It grew until it became one of the largest entities of the United Nations Organization. Because it has a very respectable face, it is difficult to believe that UNICEF is being used to stop adoptions worldwide, in a dirty war that does nothing to help the needy children of the Third World countries, but does everything to stop any effort to give them a permanent loving home in another country. The Hague Convention was conceived in the dark womb of UNICEF and it has been very successful thus far to close down almost all the adoption agencies in the United States and of a decline of 97% of adoptions in Guatemala. November is when UNICEF does its greatest collection campaign. If your care a little for the children in Guatemala, who no longer are being adopted because of their bottomless back of dirty tricks, do not donate to UNICEF. Give it to any other charity, that even if that charity is self serving, at least it will not be used to exterminate children whose only sin was to be born in the wrong country.

Guatemala, October 1st., Day of the Child , 2009.