19 May 2011

The Author

Author of the award-winning book Finding Fernanda. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Redux Pictures photographer. Read more here.

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On GuatAdopt’s “On Susana, CICIG, and the Senator”

Last Wednesday, a post entitled ”On Susana, CICIG, and the Senator” by site moderator Kevin Kreutner, Susana Loarca’s arrest and the Karen Abigail case went up on GuatAdopt, the popular “Guatemala Adoption Information and News” site. It caused lots of buzz– as of this morning, a grand total of 41 comments.

At the very top of the post rests a blunt statement. “Upfront, I’m not expert on either of these stories,” Kevin wrote. “So if I get something factually incorrect, post it to the comments.”He went on to talk a bit about Susana Loarca (also known as Luarca), saying that he felt she “would never be knowingly complicit in a kidnapping” and questioning why Guatemalan authorities have recently decided she isa flight risk. (Read more about Loarca here) Later on, he referred to a “war of words” between Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). CICIG has publicly asked the Senator to clarify a statement she made a few weeks ago to the Guatemalan press, saying that she didn’t agree with some their 2010 report on transition adoption cases. (Click here to read the report, and here for ten questions with a CICIG investigator)

After trying to add a comment to GuatAdopt twice on Friday afternoon, I sent Kevin a quick email with the text of my comment. (I’ve known him for a while, having called and emailed him sporadically over the last two years of reporting.) As a general rule, the GuatAdopt site screens all comments– things historically have gotten pretty heated in the comment threads. Kevin explained to me that whoever writes a GuatAdopt post is the one responsible for approving or rejecting comments on it. He said he wasn’t sure why my post hadn’t gone through. As of today, it’s still not up. And so, here it is. I was trying to shed a little light on a rhetorical question Kevin posed by supplying a little more factual information.

He wrote, “If it was common practice to move a case to Mixco where there was an “adoption friendly” judge, is that or should that be criminal?”

The judge involved in the “Karen Abigail” case, Mario Fernando Peralta Castañeda, Juez de la Niñez y de Adolescencia y Adolescentes en Conflicto con La Ley Penal in Escuintla (Mixco), is in fact under investigation. People have commented about it before here on GuatAdopt: http://www.guatadopt.com/archives/000991.html

Judge Peralta has been stripped of his judicial immunity (in Guatemala, judges are protected from being charged with crimes, now, since his immunity is stripped, authorities are able to file charges against him).

A clip from El Periodico about it is here: http://www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20090714/pais/106846/

The Ministerio Público suspects that the judge was part of an adoption network, and an investigator there told me that they believe he was paid per child declared abandoned/ adoptable. According to El Periódico, the charges against the judge are human trafficking, abuse of authority, malfeasance and dereliction of duty.

I spoke to Judge Peralta in person this past August, during one of my reporting trips to Guatemala. He said he was innocent, and that adoption lawyers frequently tried to push him around. He was still presiding over his court, despite the pending investigation. Judge Peralta was also involved in the case I write about in my book, the dual stories of Mildred Alvarado’s quest to find her missing daughters and Betsy Emanuel’s simultaneous search for answers after her family was offered one of the girls, Fernanda, as an adoptable orphan whose referral was “lost.” This was also a Celebrate Children referral, via the same facilitator, Marvin Bran, that was involved in the Karen Abigail case. After Betsy lost the referral for Mildred’s daughter, another adoption facilitator, Carla Girón, brought the Alvarado children before Judge Peralta for an abandonment hearing.

The full, complicated story is in my book, coming out this fall.

If GuatAdopt truly is dedicated to what their tagline says– “Promoting Informed & Ethical Adoption from Guatemala through Education”– it might be wise to hold off on predictions regarding what Susana Loarca/Luarca may or may not know about the origins of the child known as “Karen Abigail” until more facts of the case are made public.

Personally, I’ve read through leaked emails from the American adoptive parents who agonized through this little girl’s convoluted, fraud-riddled adoption, as well as hundreds of pages of Guatemalan court documents that act to outline what transpired. The case was extremely complicated, and for now, I’ll leave it at that.

Some of the comments on the GuatAdopt thread focused on the fact that no DNA test has been done to see whether the child who was adopted into the US under the name  ”Karen Abigail.” There’s no way to tell until the DNA test is done. I photographed this page of PGN pictures of “Karen Abigail” while I was in Guatemala. Redactions are my own.

And here is a photo of Anyelí, the middle daughter of Loyda Elizabeth Rodríguez and Dayner Orlando Hernández, who were both twenty-four years old when Anyelí was kidnapped on November 3, 2006. The couple, who have three children together, reported the crime the same day. Loyda showed me this photo in August 2010. She’s in the middle, and her kids are around her. Anyelí is on the right.

In his closing on GuatAdopt, Kevin Kreutner gracefully wrote, “As things stand today, the problems move on to the next country when one closes down. Little is done to address the systemic reasons for the adoptions and the corruption in the first place. Those of wealth and power are rarely held to account for their actions and the victims are almost always those most vulnerable. And this is a shame!”

One word: exactly.

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