Friday, October 05, 2007

Guatemala: CNN's AC360 "Guatemala Adoption Controversy"

CNN's show, Anderson Cooper 360 (AC360) recently featured a segment on the troubled Guatemalan adoption scene.

Harris Whitbeck and his crew traveled first to Boston to visit Sean and Ellen Darcy. The Darcy's are adoptive parents to a little boy from Guatemala, and prospective adoptive parents to a little girl named Carolina who is still in Guatemala.

Unfortunately, Carolina was one of the babies seized in August raid on Casa Quivera. For details on this raid see Fleasbiting blog entry: Guatemala: Big Picture--The Need to Clean Up International Adoption, Fleasbiting, Friday, 7 Sept 2007 and the article links contained therein.

The CNN AC360 crew traveled to Guatemala to try to understand a little of the Casa Quivera story and the Guatemalan adoption controversy by trying to track down the facts of Carolina's story. What exactly was going on in Guatemalan adoption and as a representative of Guatemalan adoption, at Casa Quivera in particular? Could they better understand it all by tracking the adoption story of Carolina and her birthmother?

The crew first tried to find Carolina's birthmom by going to the address on Carolina's relinquishment papers. They searched for quite awhile and found that there was no such address.

Next they talked to the midwife who supposedly delivered Carolina.

Finally, at an apparent dead end, they simply asked Casa Quivera to produce Carolina's mother so that they could talk to her. Amazingly, Casa Quivera did so.

Trouble is, the woman who was presented to them didn't seem to recognize Carolina's photo and seemed mixed up about the date of birth, where the birth took place, etc.

The crew clearly took note of the fact that Carolina's mother's "translator" was doing far more than simply translating--she was telling Carolina's mother what to say.

"Tell them you were not paid any money for the child. Tell them that you want the baby returned to Casa Quivera."
This was the woman who had supposedly passed the first DNA test? One wonders. No mother forgets the details of any her own labors and births--and certainly not a birth that took place only months ago.

If this was Carolina's mother, was she simply remembering--telling--what she knew, or was she slow to "remember" because she was being careful to be **correct** in her "memories"--the implication being that there were things that should and should not be said. Did she fear what might happen if she gave a "wrong" answer--one that her "translator" didn't like?

Or was this woman in fact, not really the birthmother of Carolina? If she was not, why was she presented as being the birthmother? Would that not be an outright lie for Casa Quivera to produce a woman whom they claimed was Carolina's mother, when she was, in fact, not Carolina's mother? If they would do this for a TV crew, would they do it in other circumstances?

And if this woman in fact WAS Carolina's mother, how did Casa Quivera know where to find? Remember that the address on the papers had proven to be not only incorrect, but in fact, to not exist at all? If her address had changed since the papers were filed or had been recorded incorrectly, why had Casa Quivera not given the correct address to Harris Whitbeck and his crew earlier? And why had the address not been corrected in the files?

It all leaves me wondering whether Casa Quivera offered any proof that this was indeed Carolina's mother or whether AC360 asked for any proof? One wishes that a DNA had been done to prove that the woman before them was indeed the same woman who had shown up for the first DNA test of the adoption process. Or that this woman's DNA had been right matched against Carolina's under the watchful gaze of AC360.

The question also remains--who gave the incorrect and non-existent address that was in the files? Was it, as many might claim, the mother who wanted to protect her anonymity and who didn't want anyone coming to her community to track her down--because of issues of shame? Or was it someone else, who didn't want anyone to be able to follow the trail back to the mom where they might find out more than someone wanted them to find out--where the birthmom and her community might tell all--if there was something to tell--that others wanted hidden?

The answers are not clear. We are left to speculate about all of the above.

No conclusions are drawn in the show--which I think was wise. It would have taken much more in the way of investigation to understand the things that weren't making much sense--perhaps more investigation than AC360 was willing to do.

Leaving things murky is leaving the viewer exactly where things are in Guatemala these days--murky. Truth here. Truth there. But the truths don't add up. Even logically, they are simply contradictory. Where exactly does the truth lie and who exactly will figure it out?

The crew concludes its Guatemalan trip with a visit to a foster home where children who are destined for adoption--if they can get out before the coming train wreck--are housed and cared for. We see an impossible number of healthy babies being cared for by one very calm woman (whom we hope has help) who has her own questions about the facts she's been given about some of the babies in her care.

On her lap she balances two babies that she believes are identical twins, but whose paperwork says differently. The paperwork says they are unrelated children of different parents. The suspected twins will be irrevocably separated the next day when an adoptive family comes to claim one of them. The foster mother is clearly troubled by this. Adoption agencies claim that they do not separate twins. The agencies say these children aren't twins, but she is pretty sure they are.

Once again the viewer is left in a world where truth is murky and lingering doubts trouble. Life moves ahead accepting the official line as truth whatever the real truth might be. She, like all the rest of those watching the events play out in Guatemala, must simply helplessly watch the script--whether real or fictional--play out. She is, in this drama, merely a minor character without the ability to control the plot line.

Watching this video leaves one feeling troubled. We are underwater and visibility is a few inches in front of our faces. Particles and debri float by. Outlines are murky. We can't quite make them out. It looks this way or does it look that way? Whatever is going on, we have the distinct feeling that something is decidedly not right. But we can't make it out clearly. Where are we? Where do we go from here? We are only left to guess.

And what becomes of the babies should adoptions stop processing in the first part of 2008?

Why are many adoption agencies still going forward with their Guatemalan programs--continuing to take new parents and start the process with them? Google Guatemalan adoption and take a look at the programs still operating. Some have closed, but many have not.

I recommend that everyone watch the video, read the accompanying article (both are linked below), and feel the murkiness that is Guatemalan adoption.


Video: Guatemala Adoption Controversy",CNN's AC360, 4 October 2007

Article: Guatemala seeks to slow exodus of babies to U.S.,, 4 October 2007


  1. You've given me a lot to think about. Thank you

  2. Those two girls on the lap of the "foster mother" indeed were not twins. They are like 3 months apart in age. They have both passed a DNA test with their respective birthmoms.

    As far Carolina's birthmom not knowing her own child in a digital photo, you have to remember that she hasn't seen this child in months, probably 2-4 months, so why would she know her now? You must admit that digital photos, especially while looking at them on some sort of electronic device are not super clear.

    My experience with the more indigenous women in Guatemala reflects the same experience that you see with Carolina's birthmom--they are typically quite ignorant in the true sense of the word. I have paperwork/documentation for a particular woman. When I met with this woman recently, she told me that she has just celebrated her birthday and that she was 43 years of age. Well, she isn't 43 years of age. She is 49 years of old. I asked her about the age of her husband of 30+ years. She didn't know how old he was, but she did know the month/date of his birthday, just not the year or his age. My point here is that we compare these women to our Western thoughts and standards and they are MUCH more simple than that. Why does this woman not know her birthday? She can't read, she can't write, and doesn't need to use it like we do. A different world and a different set of experiences.