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Guatemalan Court Rules on Child Abduction for Adoption Case

September 7, 2011

by Karen Smith Rotabi

Loyda Rodriguez finally received a long-awaited Guatemalan court order on July 29, 2011, which found her daughter’s intercountry adoption to the U.S. to be illegal. The court order gives a 60-day window for return of the child.

In the ruling, the courts determined that the adoption was processed with fraudulent paperwork (including an illegal passport) and require repatriation of the young girl, now a U.S. citizen. This comes after five years of searching for the child, engaging high-profile human rights defenders and staging hunger protests to demand justice. Still, her daughter’s return home remains up in the air. 

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The ruling is a watershed moment for Rodriguez and at least two other women seeking to have their daughters returned from the United States. All three of these children now live with U.S. families after coming to the country through what initially appeared to be legitimate adoptions—any initial wrongdoing by the families is not clear. But when all three U.S. families were informed that the adoptions were a result of alleged abductions, the children were not returned to Guatemala. The U.S. families remained silent and may have even worked to block concerted efforts for DNA testing and desperate pleas from the mothers for justice.

And with this recent court ruling, the U.S. Department of State remains silent while deferring all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Will DOJ require the foreign court order to be enforced? That is unlikely given DOJ’s decision to decline formal requests from the Government of Guatemala for DNA tests in each of the three cases. But there is a glimmer of hope. At the end of last month, Senator Mary Landrieu (LA) visited Guatemala and met with the mothers; hopefully Senator Landrieu will attempt to influence U.S. legal collaboration.

Meanwhile, the U.S. family in the Rodriguez case has reportedly hired a lawyer and a public relations firm to act on its behalf. Insiders predict that the family has resources to fight the case, possibly for years. The family’s public statement refers to the child in question as their daughter and uses the term “best interests” while claiming a legal adoption. Clearly these are not good signs for the Rodriguez family as the US system is known for its legal maneuvers and stall tactics.  

Meanwhile, in Guatemala, the Rodriguez family awaits the return of their young daughter; the hopeful mother has reportedly even decorated a bedroom in anticipation of a reunion. This comes after a Guatemalan daily newspaper, Siglo 21, published on August 8 that the young girl’s return is expected. However, insiders believe this report is premature and only a recount of the court order. Broader analysis reflecting the complications in an international adoption case and the untested legal scenario were not mentioned.

Now, we wait to see what will happen. What will be the families’ next move? If a legal battle ensues on U.S. soil, the outcome will inevitably require consideration of “the best interests of the child.” This will be a point of contention as the child does not speak Spanish and would face poverty if returned to Guatemala.

Regardless, the child will inevitably endure certain trauma. This is indeed a story of the “haves” and “have-nots,” and the inherent right to raise one’s child. The case also challenges our notions of child adoption and brings forth concerns about abduction—an activity vehemently denied for years by adoption agency directors and others who promoted Guatemala as an ideal adoption nation. Now, at least one high-profile Guatemalan lawyer has been incarcerated for her role in this abduction for adoption. In the U.S., the agency that processed Rodriguez’s child has a notorious record of poor practices. Will its director and others involved be held accountable for child trafficking? There are indications that Guatemalan authorities are considering further charges and this route of prosecution is a possibility.

Ultimately this is a sad scenario for all involved and it is a test of what is to come as Guatemalan human rights defenders continue to push for truth and reconciliation for intercountry adoption fraud. According to the most vocal of Guatemalan advocates, Norma Cruz of Survivor’s Foundation, this is one of many cases of force, fraud and coercion in the nation’s previous intercountry adoption system. Cruz and others see the act of abduction as interwoven with the nation’s notorious problems of violence against women. The Rodriguez and other cases are symbolic of the violence, power and oppression that grip the system.

As it all unravels, a very human story of sadness, hope and family life is revealed.

Note: the serious adoption irregularities of the aforementioned “stalled cases” are reviewed in detail in the UN Impunity Commission’s report on the matter.

Update: The author has since learned that the Department of Justice may now be cooperating with one or all three of these cases. It is not clear if this includes DNA testing. However, case involvement continues  to unfold as the U.S. government must define its role in this largely untested legal scenario.

Karen Smith Rotabi is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She is an assistant professor at the Virgina Commonwealth University School of Social Work and a Hague Evaluator for the Council on Accreditation of inter-country adoption agencies.

Tags: Guatemala, CICIG

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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