22 Aug 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.


Behind the New CNA Resolution on Transition Adoption Cases

The Consejo Nacional de Adopciones (Guatemala’s National Council on Adoptions) has issued a new decree that will impact the processing of transition adoption cases. The Associated Press writes that the new rule could “speed up dozens of adoptions by U.S. couples that have been stuck in limbo.” The article doesn’t specifically say why these cases have been “stuck,” which, to my understanding based on interviews with Guatemalan officials, is largely due to ongoing criminal investigations, a serious attempt to review all documents for signs of fraud and forgery, and an interdisciplinary effort by a working group of different government institutions aimed at clarifying the authenticity of each child’s adoption process.

“I will believe it when I see it,” one adoptive mother emailed to me this morning. She’s been trying to adopt a child whose case contained fraudulent paperwork for the past three years.

An article published by FoxNewsLatino quoted Beth Gosselin, a State Department spokesperson, saying, “We are pleased to see progress toward the resolution of these pending cases.”

OK, to back up for a second, the term “transition cases” largely refers to Guatemalan adoptions that were initiated before December 31, 2007, when Guatemala ratified the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The Hague is an international treaty aimed at stamping out child selling and other unethical practices in international adoption– you can read more here about it. Adoptions that began before December 31, 2007 were supposed to be processed under Guatemala’s “old” adoption rules, as opposed to the revised Hague-compliant rules, which were more strict.

According to the Associated Press, who published this article earlier today, parents whose adoptions were halted mid-process are now going to be able to move forward if they can “prove a ‘prolonged” relationship with the child” and if they can show that they weren’t “responsible for any fraud.” The piece goes on to quote Senator Mary Landrieu, who will be visiting Guatemala on an advocacy trip this week, saying that she hopes that the new decree will apply to more than just the “44 cases” she now expects to be resolved in the “next few weeks.” The Senator, the Associated Press writes, is trying to “work out a process” in Guatemala that will result in the resolution of what is quoted as 400 in-process cases.

Frankly, I was quite surprised by the following statistics cited in the AP piece:

“The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, a U.N.-created agency prosecuting organized crime cases in Guatemala, reviewed more than 3,000 adoptions completed or in process and found nearly 100 grave irregularities.”

In a press release from three months ago, the International Commission Against Impunity (known by the Spanish acronym CICIG) in Guatemala estimated 325 adoption processes with signs of possible criminality were under investigation by the Ministerio Público– not one hundred. CICIG found just ten percent of all children leaving Guatemala in adoption between 2008 and 2010 were legitimate orphans. Their research corroborates a statement that Mario Gordillo, former head of PGN, told me back in 2009 when I interviewed him at his office in Guatemala City: “real orphans” made up less than 10% of children who were adopted.

So how did this new adoption decree come to pass, and what does it really mean?

According to an official source I spoke to off the record this afternoon, the impact of the resolution is in fact quite different from what the Associated Press reported.

The source said that an interdisciplinary working group, consisting of CICIG, the CNA, and the PGN, collaborated on the creation of this new decree, which was was created in order to provide a solution to adoption cases that aren’t legally considered transition cases under Guatemala’s Adoptions Law. Technically, these cases aren’t supposed to continue. The new decree offers a loophole for the best interest of the children in question. My source said that due to the irregularities like false documents, or because an adoption was initiated after the ban on new processes went into effect, the adoptions aren’t supposed to continue. Yet now, after the children’s birth mothers confirm that they do indeed want to relinquish them, the cases will be allowed to progress.

To back up a bit more, here’s a little more history on the processing of transition cases.

Though Guatemala was supposed to have better protections in place to protect the rights of children and families after December 31, 2007, when the Hague treaty went into effect, CICIG reached the conclusion that the new rules hadn’t really done much.

In their extensive 115-page “Report on Actors Involved in the Process of Illegal Adoptions in Guatemala,” which is based on data culled and digitized from 3,032 individual adoption files compiled from the Guatemalan Solicitor General’s Office (the PGN, or Procuraduría General de la Nación), the National Council on Adoptions (the CNA), the Guatemalan Immigration Bureau, the Ministerio Público, and interviews with government officials, CICIG found irregularities in 60% of 3,032 adoptions.

“In many cases, there are multiple and clear indications that the illegal procedures were promoted by transnational organized crime,” CICIG announced in December 2010. They noted the involvement of Guatemalan government officials, who played a key role in the facilitation of illegal adoptions. CICIG said Guatemala’s participation in international adoption between 2008-2010 was a “lucrative form of human trafficking,” and that adoption was used as a “mechanism” to deliver children to those requesting and paying for them.

They unearthed cases where passports were issued to children whose adoptions had never gained approval from Guatemala’s Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN), the government agency responsible for reviewing adoption paperwork. In other cases, a single child’s identity was used in the adoption documents prepared for “two or three sets of adoptive parents.” Other children, CICIG found, left Guatemala on private flights, leaving behind no information about where they were going or who had taken them.

When published, the report garnered almost no attention from media in the US, aside from a single AP blurb picked up by a few outlets.

At the report’s conclusion, CICIG listed recommendations for investigating and prosecuting those involved in illegal adoptions and child trafficking. They suggested prosecuting adoption-related trafficking cases within the framework of Guatemala’s Law Against Organized Crime, something certain Guatemalan judges have refused to do. At the time of the report’s release, at least six Guatemalan government officials were being investigated for “charges of dereliction of duty and trafficking in persons for irregular adoption purposes.” Twenty-five public notaries and five adoption lawyers were also under investigation. Sources at CICIG say that the number has increased since the report came out. During in-person interviews at the CICIG compound in Guatemala City, investigators told me that they expected “complete fulfillment” of the recommendations presented in the report. “Every mother whose child was stolen has the right to know what happened,” one analyst said.

Yet now, with Senator Landrieu advocating for the immediate resolution of what appears to be all pending adoptions, will CICIG’s recommendations regarding criminal investigations stand a chance at actually being finished?

If advocacy organizations like the Guatemala900 group and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute succeed, transition cases will be finalized as fast as possible. On August 15th, the Guatemala900 sent out an email (forwarded to me by several sources) saying the following:

“We have very good news – Senator Landrieu and her coalition will be traveling back to Guatemala next week to advocate for our pending adoptions!   The Senator has asked us to please use discretion and keep this news out of the public eye, as her and her coalition believe that they will achieve maximum effectiveness in their advocacy by doing so.”

Back in 2009, I interviewed Gary Cooper and his wife Ellora DeCarlo, founder of the Guatemala900 group, while they were living in Guatemala at the private nursery Semillas de Amor, waiting for their simultaneous adoption of three Guatemalan children to become final. ”We’re up against something much bigger than us,” DeCarlo told me. “One of the things I do want to do when we get home is work with the [Congressional] Coalition on Adoption on helping the CNA [Guatemala's National Council on Adoptions], I think their interpretation of the Hague has caused some problems.”

Since then, Guatemala900 has marched on Washington, gotten 50 Congressional representative to send signed letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and organized Mother’s Day petitions on behalf of American adoptive parents that have garnered over 5,000 signatures.

I’m curious to see what happens next, especially since Senator Landrieu has engaged in such public head-butting with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala in the recent past. One of my sources in Guatemala says Senator Landrieu will be having meetings with government authorities today and tomorrow.

You can read old posts about the Senator’s previous trip to Guatemala here:

April 26, 2011: US Senator, State Department Official Visit Guatemala

April 27, 2011: CICIG Responds to Senator Landrieu

May 19, 2011: On GuatAdopt’s “On Susana, CICIG, and the Senator”

May 20, 2011: Open letter from Fundación Sobrevivientes to Senator Mary Landrieu

May 24, 2011: Senator Landrieu Responds

It will be interesting to see what happens next, especially given that these negotiations are taking place against the backdrop of the recent “Karen Abigail” case decision. I’ll write more as new information surfaces.


Note: An English translation of the CICIG report was released in April 2011, and I’ve linked to both the Spanish and English versions here.







1 Comment
  1. Thank you Erin for this information. The report states the following and any parent should be alarmed by these findings, whether it pertains to their case…or not.

    “They unearthed cases where passports were issued to children whose adoptions had never gained approval from Guatemala’s Procuraduría General de la Nación (PGN), the government agency responsible for reviewing adoption paperwork. In other cases, a single child’s identity was used in the adoption documents prepared for “two or three sets of adoptive parents.” Other children, CICIG found, left Guatemala on private flights, leaving behind no information about where they were going or who had taken them.”

    So are they saying that the PGN approval that some parents may have is a fake?
    Is it like a photocopy with names typed in? What does an AP look for to verify that the document is not a fake? Can one verify the PGN approval that was suppose to have been registered with the court or with PGN itself?

    Were several PAPs given the same referral? Is that why some PAPs received news that they lost a referral? Does that mean that the child was not returned to the biofamily but instead, given to another PAP instead? Maybe because that PAP…paid more money?

    The news of children leaving on private flights is disturbing, one can only hope that they were adopted by very wealthy families and not adopted for other reasons.

    Is there any way of tracking the children adopted abroad?

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