This week, the morning of August 16, 2011, the Second Tribunal Court of Criminal Sentencing in Guatemala City, Guatemala held a hearing related to the abduction of Heidy Saraí Batz Par, a baby believed to have been sold into an adoption network.
Heidy, the daughter of Raquel Par Socop and Marco Batz Tucubal, has been missing since April 4, 2006. According to a case briefing prepared by their lawyer in 2009, Par and Batz have been married for 24 years and have a total of eight children together. The Ministerio Público (Guatemalan Ministry of Justice) has offered financial compensation for tips and information related to Heidy’s whereabouts since 2008.
Heidy was eleven months old when she was abducted in Prados de Villa Hermosa, Guatemala. Although her family resided in rural Tecpan, Chimaltenango, the child was taken from her mother as she commuted by bus into the city to work. Par filed a missing child complaint with the Ministerio Público. After over a year of agitating for help, Par, along with three other women searching for kidnapped children (Loyda Rodríguez, Olga López, and Ana Escobar) were officially granted permission to look through migration records and the corresponding passport photos of children who left Guatemala in adoption processes in the year 2007. Par identified a child named “Kimberli Azucena Jiménez,” whom she believed to be her own missing daughter. The documents said “Kimberli Azucena” had been granted a passport on November 14, 2007, with a new American last name: that of a single woman from Iowa who was supposed to adopt her.
According to PGN records for the adoption, leaked to me in 2009, the Guatemalan lawyers handling the adoption of “Kimberli Azucena” were Luis Emilio Orozco Piloña and Vilma Corina Bustamante Tuchez. The licensed social worker is listed as Irma Marina del Aguila Berganza. None of them have been charged with any kind of crime.
PGN statistics say that a total of 2,577 adoptions were approved in 2007. Here’s where things get sticky: although the PGN reviewed each adoption file, after they approval an adoption, the folder of paperwork about the process would be handed back to the lawyer who was handling the case. Almost no records were kept in PGN.
Yet the rules governing the practice of law in Guatemala require that lawyers deposit notarized documents related to legal transactions in a huge public records database, the Archivo General de Protocolos. That means all adoption documents, theoretically, should be deposited there. It’s a building I’ve spent hours and hours navigating, filing Guatemalan public records requests and waiting in various lines to both pay for and receive records. You can read more about my Guatemalan records requests here. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Guatemalan lawyers are mandated to deposit their cases– and were supposed to be fined if they didn’t– many ignore the rule.
Ministerio Público investigators trying to understand what happened in the Heidy Par/ Kimberli Azucena case turned to Guatemala’s electronic database of migration records. This would seem to be relatively easy, since there’s a computerized database accounting for every person’s movements in and out of the country. It’s possible to pull certain names from these migration records. Here’s a copy of an official request for migration records, related to the “Karen Abigail” case (leaked).
The records are pretty specific. The same source gave me access to a variety of documents related to the “Karen Abigail” case, including flight records for American citizen Sue Hedberg, executive director of the adoption agency Celebrate Children International (CCI). According to the documents and email sent by adoptive mother Jennifer Monahan, CCI was the agency that initially handled the adoption referral for “Karen Abigail.” Here’s what migration records in Guatemala look like:
At this week’s hearing on the Heidy Par case, it was revealed that no such migration records exist for “Kimberli Azucena,” the little girl who may or may not be Raquel Par’s daughter Heidy. Apparently, the child never left Guatemala on any flights out of the country.
In a statement to the press released after the hearing, Fundación Sobrevivientes underscored the fact that such electronic migration records pertained solely to air travel, bringing up the possibility that “Kimberli Azucena” could have left the country via land border. In that case, no electronic records related to her departure would exist. Still, why would an American adoptive mother from Iowa opt to take her newly adopted daughter home by land, traveling through the Guatemala-Mexico border, a relatively lawless area where drug cartels are known to have more power than local governments?
At this point, it’s unclear if migration records for the Iowa woman exist.
So what happens next?
There’s no proof that a child with the name “Kimberli Azucena” left Guatemala. There’s no proof she stayed. There’s also nothing that proves that “Kimberli Azucena” is indeed the missing child Heidy Par.
A final note on the hearing: two suspects, Abner Ludwig Cifuentes Peralta and Thelma Virginia Velásquez Revolorio, were arrested three years ago (2008) and charged with human trafficking, aggravated abduction, and kidnapping/abduction in relation to the Heidy Par case. I believe the trial is supposed to continue next week.
The Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre has a brief mention of the hearing here: http://www.prensalibre.com.gt/noticias/justicia/robo-menor-villa_hermosa_0_537546367.html
Video footage of the hearing can be watched here (en español): http://findingfernanda.com/2011/08/in-the-courtroom-heidy-par-kimberli-azucena-hearing/