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November 19, 2007

Guatadopt Interview with Consul General John Lowell

With Guatemalan adoptions in an increased state of turmoil, emotions are high. As a writer for a blog that is a combination of news, analysis and commentary, I've often had to work hard to balance my roles as journalist and editorialist. It's a lot of responsibility when I know how difficult daily life is for many of our readers, those whose sincerest ambitions and dreams rest on providing a home for a child.

Late Wednesday night, the journalist in me took over and on a whim, I decided to ask US Consul General to Guatemala John Lowell for an interview. It was much to my amazement when on Thursday he agreed to do it. He accepted so quickly, I honestly hadn't even thought of exactly what I'd ask him yet.

Preparing for this was no easy task. “Journalist or editorialist” kept going through my mind. On Guatadopt I’ve been quite outspoken in my criticism of his role in the state of affairs. This was a chance to get him! On the other hand, the fact that he accepted is impressive. Guatadopt has a large and loyal readership, but it’s just another blog. Do diplomats really worry about the grassroots? Families, mine included, have real questions. Maybe if I ask them directly I can have some answered. I decided the journalist was best suited to this job – especially if I ever wanted anyone else to accept.

So I set off to develop a list of questions. I’m a critic of the US media because when it comes to asking tough but honest questions they just seem to shy away. Determined to be tough but fair, I put together an interview that asked what I felt were the most prevalent questions as well as a few to lighten the mood.

What follows now is the interview I had with John Lowell. Since I have no way to record calls, I had to type as we went. I’ve done my best to keep things as close to word for word as possible, though admittedly I couldn’t always keep up. I’m quite confident that nothing is misstated and if it is, I encourage Lowell to correct me.

What exactly does a Consul General do? What is your role?

As Consul General I am the operational manager for the United States government in Guatemala. I do American citizen services issues – victims of crime. Overall half our work is dedicated to non-immigrant visa interviews and immigrant visa operation – 60% of those are adoption. I am also the local expert on consular affairs.

Can you tell me specifically, what is the US lobbying the Guatemalan Congress to do? And I must say upfront that by “specifically” I mean implementation dates, provisions/amendments? In detail, what is the official US position?

I’ve been here 2.5 years and one of the most important things on my plate is adoptions. I looked at two specific issues that might seem to some not to be in complete accordance with one another. (1) Support Guatemala’s efforts to be Hague compliant and provide appropriate protections for the children, adoptive parents and biological parents. Part of that effort has always been the focus on how to implement the Hague as a functional working adoption system – not something that shuts adoptions down. I continue to believe that ICA should remain an option as well as domestic adoption, but there is currently not a culture for domestic adoption in Guatemala. Hand in hand with that mission was the concern that in-process, pending cases not be harmed by implementation of the Hague. It is a balancing act.

Implementation – on May 22 (the Guatemalan) Congress said it would be Dec. 31, 2007. This would mean adoptions starting in 2008 would have to comply with the Hague. But the Hague allows many technical tactical setups to get there. The US has never said “this is how you have to implement the Hague”. We’ve offered help and technical experience, evaluated draft legislation, provided input on whether something seems compliant and provides adequate protections.


Referring to the recent discussion of an April 30th date, why is the date Guatemala chooses to implement important to DOS? The US has taken many years to implement the Hague, why do you believe Guatemala should only have a month to do it?

It’s not to effectively have only a month. You are correct in implying it will take more than a month. In fact, since 98% of all adoptions go to the US, I’d argue that putting it into effect Dec 31, realizing that US won’t implement until the expected date of April 1, definitely early 2008, (actually gives them four months). This is my argument and other will have different opinions of this. I have personally received some high level assurances that yes in process cases will be processed to completion under the notarial process. We, our guess right now, assuming it remains Dec 31, our guess is that we will have somewhere over 4,000 pending cases at that point. It’s going to take a long time, all of 2008 at the current rate they are processed, for those cases to be completed. We have very good reason to be confident that folks in the process now, that the matching will stay the same, I know it’s impossible for those matched to understand this but not all cases will be approved, the birthmother can change her mind at any point up until the very end. One practical point of extending it to April 1 or 30 is that there would be a significantly higher number of cases.

You’re right that they can’t be ready in a month, but they have also said that they will only process cases to Hague countries so practically that gives them a few months to get everything worked out.

How exactly have you and/or Ambassador Derham been lobbying for this position?

Ambassador Derham (addresses it) at nearly every opportunity, this is not strictly with members of Congress or government officials, when he talks about the key initiatives that are important to the US embassy he has always made it clear that adoption reform and the proceeding to a system that is to the best degree possible child centered is a very important goal of his mission. Of course he has a wide audience, whether in small meetings or larger ones.

Is it true that on the day the Ortega Law was approved that you and/or Ambassador Derham called the leaders of the major political parties represented in the Guatemalan Congress to express your support of the Ortega Law and encourage them to vote in favor of it?

On the Ortega Bill, I think there has been a lot of mischaracterization of the Ortega bill. It was presented to congress in 2005 and went nowhere for quite a while until 2007 when congress began to realize that they’ve been trying for adoption reform for 15 years with nothing. What happened was the Director of Congress made a request for evaluation of 3217 to the Hague Permanent Bureau, the HPB invited several interested countries including the United States to serve as technical assistance providers. The US sent a team, there were several people from Columbia, three from the Hague and other representatives there for about eight days at the end of July after having previous drafts submitted officially to them by congress. There were a number of seminars on what the Hague requires. There was also a group of representatives from congress, other interested parties - Bienestar, Unicef, PGN - based on these recommendations they looked at 3217 and said here are things that the Hague requires that are not addressed, here are things we thought might be inconsistent with the Hague. And we talked about ways to address those issues. The bill that had its third reading was very different from the original bill. One of the things we pointed to the need for was an appropriate transition clause for in process cases to be completed under the notarial process. That was certainly in the version at that time. Ensuring there is funding so that you don’t end adoption processing because there is no budget to actually move a case through in quick order and that is something that I am pleased people on all sides have recognized is necessary. A two year adoption process is not something that anyone wants to see.

We certainly thought that it was good thing to approve that law – yes that is correct. I recall being a bit surprised that it was passed so quickly.

Was the loan from the US that was approved the same day in any way connected to approving Ortega?

I don’t have a clue. (note: Mr Lowell did not appear to know about the loan in mention) I know we have a US AID budget of about 50 million annually (note: I had originally transcribed this figure incorrectly. So it had said 4150 million incorrectly). I would love to see it contain support for implementation for adoption institutions. There was one small project that US AID is funding which is assisting Bienestar with locating and registering children’s homes. One thing they are looking at is which children have already been abandoned so that they can be adopted. There are large numbers of “older children” (meaning 2+) who are in a handful of government orphanages, most of them are in a wide assortment of private charitable places and no body up to this point has much of an idea of which are where, how many. One figure that I’ve cited that I found impressive is that in 2005 the figure I have is that 1500 children where ruled abandoned by Guatemalan courts. Our 2005 figures for ICA would have been close to 4000 cases. Out of that we probably only did about 300 abandoned children cases, the rest being relinquishment. Kids that have already been separated from biological families are not being adopted.

How many hours a week do you spend working with Guatemalan officials on matters related to adoptions from Guatemala?

Varies. Not just with Guatemalan officials but working with folks in D.C., working with responses to people who write us like PAPS. I do tend to say I spend 70% of my work week on adoption issues. A small amount is with officials. There is a wide range of Guatemalans who are not officials to talk to about adoption related matters.


You are obviously an established diplomatic and bureaucrat. So you have experience with the degree to which the US exerts influence on other countries to pass certain laws or act in a certain matter. On a scale of one to ten, ten being highest, how hard did the US press Guatemala to pass the Ortega Law?

Oh good lord, I would correct you. I am an experienced US diplomat. In terms of pressing to pass a law, I can’t give you a scale of one to ten. I couldn’t come to guessing on it. As you point out, even though it took us 13 years to implement the Hague, we were at the table to create the treaty. We weren’t thinking about Guatemala at the time. At the time we were told Guatemala wasn’t an expressing sending country. There were other countries being thought about. But the principles seemed very useful to Guatemala.

One point I want to reiterate. Encourage Guatemala to pass the law. Work with appropriate people in congress to be able to offer advice as requested. With particular focus on (1) providing appropriate protections for the children and parents and I think that most of the versions do provide protections for adoptive parents that simply don’t exist today. But focus on the child and at the same time look for ways to ensure that cases already in process are not terminated and forced to start over. And look for ways to help Guatemala arrive at a system that could be functional and actually provide homes for children who need adoptive families.

If you were a betting man, what would you say the odds are of Guatemala approving an amendment to grandfather in-process cases?

I don’t think anyone opposes it. I’d put money down on that one. You might not get a law; that possibility exists. We’re getting short on time. (John Lowell tells me he has an appointment he has to get to).

Assuming it passes, what new requirements do you think there may be for cases in process at the time the law goes into effect? You have mentioned additional steps to confirm the origin of the child and the mothers consent. And would additional steps be just on the Guatemalan side or the US side as well?

I’ve been told specifically in the same meeting in which they said we recognized “in the best interests of the children already involved we need a procedure to complete these adoptions”. Very specifically they said they will be completed under notarial law and the idea is that there would be two steps (1) a required birthmother interview by PGN. A procedure to bring additional staff on board (is in the works and) would keep the current flow through rate (we see) now. It might take the better part of a year to complete all of that (2) somewhat fuzzier - specifically make sure of the origin of the child. In fact, at which point I jumped in to point to the double DNA testing (currently done and) that I was convinced that is part of our process (to ensure the origin of the child). Until you reach a point in which you have a electronic DNA database it will never be 100%. I think that is important. (John Lowell went on to tell me that this would not be too expensive to implement and that then, if a woman claimed her child had been kidnapped, they could swab her saliva and run it against the DNA database of children in the process).

If you could be any kind of donut, what kind would it be and why?
(Laughs). I like the kind filled with applesauce.

I’m fairly confident that they will be able to get a reasonable adoption system back within a few months. Obviously at the beginning the capacity to process large capacity of adoptions won’t be present.

I think that we see lots of healthy kids going through (the adoption process) who seem to be healthy, well cared for, and undoubtedly end up with great families in the US and have excellent chances for life. But the current system is (for some reason I can’t tell what he said here, but it was basically that the current system needs to be reformed, which I agree with).

END OF PHONE INTERVIEW

Over the weekend, Mr. Lowell replied via e-mail to the rest of questions I had written. Below are his verbatim responses.

I want to be fair and give you the opportunity to address assertions I’ve made on this site. So I’m asking these not to be confrontational, but to give you an opportunity to respond.

I have stated that the threat of a new law not ultimately grandfathering in process cases was a red herring. The Guatemalan constitution prevents a law from being applied retroactively unless it is a criminal law. And President Berger has denied ever saying in process cases would not be allowed to continue, which was the basis of the DOS notice. How do you respond?

Not a “red herring” at all. Until the version that was presented on Oct. 3, all previous versions that we had seen of draft legislation, called, in one way or another, for requiring preexisting cases to “conform to the new legislation”. While a wide open statement, it strongly appeared that such “conforming” would mean that parent/child matches made under the notarial “relinquishment” process would not be recognized, which would force adoptive parents (and the children they had been matched with) to start a brand new process, with totally new rules.
Neither I nor the DOS ever said that President Berger made such a statement. I think people misinterpreted a DOS web posting which stated (accurately) that a Guatemalan government official said that once Guatemala implemented the Hague (on 12/31/2007), no new adoptions would be initiated to non-Hague member countries, meaning that from 12/31/07 through 3/31/08, new adoptions to the U.S. could not be processed.
Also, we were much concerned that no implementing legislation would be passed, and were told by a number of officials that Hague implementation on 12/31/07 (without a law providing transition protection) would halt the processing of already initiated cases. Recent statements have now indicated that such cases will still be processed under the notarial process, but a final decision on the definition of “initiated” has not yet been communicated to us and that’s still an important concern..

Following the arrest of Mary Bonn last February, DOS began issuing a series of notices and FAQs about Guatemalan adoption that were “less than complementary”. In addition, DOS supposedly requested that agencies voluntarily shut down their Guatemala programs. Guatadopt has written that this has been part of an orchestrated move to prevent new families from entering the system. In addition we’ve stated that DOS has only pushed for laws, namely Ortega/3217, that have caused a cessation of intercountry adoptions in other Central American countries and globally because ultimately that makes DOS no longer having to deal with adoptions from Guatemala. Are these fair and accurate assertions we’ve made?

Actually, I think we started talking about a warning message in November 2006, as a suggestion that I made (and first posted a message in December). While I certainly then had concerns about the adoption process, my specific reason for raising the question at that point was my fear that we could see a large number of adoptive parents (and children) trapped in adoption processes that might be impossible to complete. That warning referred specifically to the pending changes in Guatemala’s adoption procedures, and the impossibility of being able to predict when and how such changes would be made. My understanding is that about 300 families were trapped when Cambodia was closed down; I was afraid then that 3000 families could be trapped in Guatemala by the impending change in procedures.

DOS didn’t participate in the drafting of 3217. The Guatemalan Congress did ask for assistance from the Hague Permanent Bureau in determining whether it would be Hague compliant. The HPB asked a number of interested countries to assist in that task, including the U.S. A team came to Guatemala in late July, and spent over a week with interested parties looking at a number of Guatemalan adoption issues, including the draft law. Some members of the team sat down with members of the Guatemalan Congress and other government representatives and made numerous suggestions designed to help the legislation meet Hague goals and meet the need for a functional program that could continue to keep adoption (both domestic and international) a viable option for Guatemalan children who don’t have families of their own. As I said when you and I talked, the U.S. government has always been concerned about the need to both provide adequate protection to children in the adoption process (and to both birth and adoptive parents) and at the same time help Guatemala create a program that can ensure that children who need international adoption can find adoptive families.


If the adoption system is as tainted as DOS’s statements have indicated, why hasn’t the US just shut the system down?

The legal authority permitting that to be done is not at all clear. And, once you shut down such a process, when can you be satisfied that the system has been reformed “sufficiently” to resume? It has seemed probable that Guatemala was in the final stages of implementing significant change, and we too were in the final months of our own Hague implementation process.

How did you feel the day Jerry Garcia died?

pass…

Is it your belief that private sector actors cannot be part of any adoption system in Guatemala? If so, what is this belief based on? It can’t be the Hague treaty, since that treaty clearly allows accredited private actors to provide adoption services, which is what the U.S. is currently implementing.

Currently in Guatemala people are searching the villages for women willing to/who can be convinced to give up their babies for adoption. That part of the process is subject to the greatest likelihood of abuse and probably can’t be done successfully in Guatemala by the private sector.

Many adoption advocates are critical of Ortega and proposals like it because they do not set aside specific funds to provide the social services inherent in the current private system. How do things like whether a bill provides social services factor into US support? Are social services DOS’s business?

Again, DOS supports a system that provides protection and that is also functional. The Hague Convention has multiple goals to both protect children in the adoption process and to encourage the building of a wider system of child protection, making it possible for more children to remain safely with birth families, to have adequate temporary protection when they cannot, and to eventually work to increase their hopes of finding permanent families.

Tell me the truth, what do you think of Guatadopt? We’ve slung some mud at you, now is your chance to fire back.

Often quite accurate, and with positions that seem valid to me. Other times not, but potentially because of information that you wouldn’t have been aware of.

What advice do you have for others that Guatadopt may interview?

None at this point.

END OF E-INTERVIEW
And the end of the phone interview we said our farewells with a gentlemen’s agreement to keep the lines of communication open.

Consul General John Lowell came through as a pretty normal dude and not a tightly buttoned diplomat. I think he genuinely wanted to have a direct line to families; though I remain baffled by at least one of his responses.

What kind of donut has applesauce in it? Is he talking about a bear claw or something like that? Oh, the need for follow up questions.

Seriously, one challenge I have found in taking the journalist or respectable advocate route is that sometimes you find yourself actually liking the enemy. This doesn’t mean that it changes my opinion on policy matters, just that I’m able to separate the person involved from it. Sometimes I realize that they are doing their job as prescribed to them. Lord knows many of us take routes in our professions that are not our decisions. I’m not saying that is the case with Lowell, just that it’s something to remember.

Some of the answers did not address the exact questions. And had we more time I likely would have grilled harder on them. Admittedly, I did on a couple occasions politely repeat the question to try to get a more direct answer.

But we did get insights into the US position and learn some new things. To those in process whenever a new law comes into effect, you are likely to face a new requirement that PGN interview the birthmother. My guess is that this would occur while you are in PGN before being released. We heard reassurances, as Guatadopt has been saying from day one, that in-process cases will be grandfathered and completed under the notarial system. I thought we learned the date expected date of US Hague – a hot scoop – until I received an e-mail about ten after the interview that Bush had signed the articles to join.

One interesting point from Mr. Lowell was about how he viewed a January versus April implementation date for a new Guatemalan law. He basically confirmed what Guatadopt has been reporting, albeit in a much less nefarious tone. It would reduce the number of pipeline cases and give Guatemala a few months to prepare for US implementation with no new cases being started. Good, bad, or indifferent – the pipeline cases were obviously a eminent tone in his responses.

All in all, I don’t think my personal opinions on the issues have changed. I still see err in how my government has handled this situation. And I am still upset greater effort on law enforcement does not get emphasized, though admittedly I did not ask a question on it.

Guatadopt hopes to do more such interviews in an effort to keep parents up-to-date and help us all to better understand those who hold the future of Guatemalan adoptions in their hands. We have feelers out for a few and hope that they accept and realize we will be fair and polite while not being afraid to ask direct, difficult questions.

Posted by Kevin at November 19, 2007 09:47 AM
Comments

Thank you Kevin. This interview is very helpful. I have written letters to Rice, Derham and Lowell (and many others) asking why they were lobbying against American Families "in-proces." It appears that they are trying to consider any ramifications for "in-process" families, which provides some comfort during this very stressful time.
Margaret

Posted by: Margaret Bublitz at November 19, 2007 10:38 AM

This is great. The only thing I feel that is missing is an explanation of "why Ortega vs. the other laws?" Why not either of the other two laws that were introduced that are more child-centered?

Thanks for arranging the interview, Kevin! And, thank you, Mr. Lowell for responding... we appreciate your time!

Posted by: R at November 19, 2007 10:50 AM

What a great interview, Kevin. Kudos to you. One interesting question to Consul General Lowell would have been to ask whether he actually sits down with Guatemalan adoption attorneys to discuss these issues and, if not, why not? What does he think of the attorneys?

Posted by: Lee at November 19, 2007 10:55 AM

Wow! An impressive interview, Kevin. And I'm impressed that Mr Lowell took the time to speak to you and address all of our concerns.

Also, FYI, my husband's favorite donut has applesauce in it...its a filled donut with cinnamon on the outside.

Posted by: marimom at November 19, 2007 11:00 AM

Thank you Kevin for doing this, and I guess it still leaves me wondering about alot of things. Most importantly to us in-process is the "birth mom interview with PGN". How frightening for them to have to go through this. I guess we don't know if they will be allowed to have anyone present to support them. Why cannot the SW who interviewed them in family court or someone like that conduct a personal interview, even record it, rather than having to sit in PGN. I hope these women are able to express what they want and stand up for it, whatever it is.

Teri
In PGN 10/30

Posted by: teri at November 19, 2007 11:23 AM

Thanks for taking the initiative in organizing the interview.

Posted by: Marc at November 19, 2007 11:34 AM

Brilliant work Kevin, its great to have this first hand information, even if its still wishy washy on some of the major issues.

Also, I've now read of two instances recently where the Mom has been interviewed by PGN and basically strong armed into taking her children back. I hope this is not a trend, and pray we get out before this new step happens. Making sure the Mom wants to continue with an adoption plan is one thing, verbally demanding and coercing a Mom who can't feed her children and has no resources to care for them, into keeping them is another.

Posted by: Melissa at November 19, 2007 11:56 AM

Great interview, Kevin! I take comfort in the many times Mr. Lowell stated his "concern that in-process, pending cases not be harmed by implementation of the Hague," and that he would "put money down" on a bet that pipeline cases would be grandfathered in. I personally would not mind if they added a birthmother interview, as long as 1) it is concurrent with the final sign-off so it doesn't add time to the process, and 2) no one uses it as an opportunity to try to talk the birthmother out of signing off (or tries to influence her in any way). I suppose there are still a handful of attorneys who get a POA to do the final sign-off on behalf of the birthmother, but I've heard that is becoming uncommon.

As far as the donut filled with applesauce, I'll be he's talking about an apple fritter (also my favorite!).

Posted by: Jennifer at November 19, 2007 12:01 PM

Thanks for the interview, Kevin. There are still a lot of questions up in the air, but I appreciate hearing Lowell's perspective. As for the donut, I, too, like the applesauce filled donut. It's like a jelly filled donut, except applesauce is used instead of jelly and the outside is covered with yummy cinnamon sugar, rather than powdered sugar. :)

Posted by: Lisa at November 19, 2007 12:03 PM

Wow!! Thank you for doing that interview. It was very interesting to read. My thought on Guatadopt is what a great site and it has been extremely helpful to me in this whole process.

Posted by: Amy at November 19, 2007 12:09 PM

Great interview, Kevin! It's too bad that the "mainstream" press, by and large, hasn't bothered to do the legwork that you've done for this piece.

I'm disappointed that Mr. Lowell didn't answer the question about how he felt the day Jerry Garcia died. I felt miserable, especially since I'd given away my ticket to the last show the Grateful Dead ever did (at Soldier Field) to attend a wedding.

A very "Grateful DAD",
Gregg

Posted by: Gregg at November 19, 2007 12:17 PM

On the whole, I don't take a lot of heart from Mr. Lowell's interview. He does say that he thinks that cases will continue under the notarial process, but also states that in-process cases will probably have to undergo some extra steps, probably an interview of the birth mother and a determination of the origin of the child. (By the way, that's no grandfather clause. It might be a transition process, some amalgam of the old and the new, but it's not a grandfather clause.)

Judging by the current attitude towards adoption in PGN, and by the trouble people are having getting birth certificates AFTER the adoption is legally completed, I imagine that an interview of the birth mother and an investigation of the child's origins will result in a lot of cases either stuck in limbo or having the relinquishment stopped by the mother.

That, to me, is the news here, and I found it worrisome.

Also, on grandfathering: "Grandfathering" to me means you proceed by the rules under which you started - period. If something is grandfathered AND has some extra steps, that's not grandfathering in my book, that's a new law. It may be some kind of transition law, between the old and the new, but it's not grandfathering.

Many thanks to Kevin for asking for and doing this interview, and to Mr. Lowell for his candor and willingness to be interviewed.


Posted by: Nick B at November 19, 2007 12:53 PM

Kevin - thanks for lowdown on the interview. Great job.

I have one very important question. How is adding new steps to a grandfather law called a grandfather law? This is nonsense. Why are they adding these new requirements this is basically taking part of the new law and applying to the old process. THIS IS NOT GRANDFATHERING!! Don't they do a birthmother interview now in family court. What would be the point of PGN doing another birth mother interview except to use scare tactics to force these birthmothers to take back the child? This is a new law disguised by the name GRANDFATHER.

I dont like it one bit. I trust PGN about as far as I can throw them. Not to mention all the extra time this is going to take. This is a bunch of crap.

Posted by: not happy about this at all at November 19, 2007 01:07 PM

That's too bad he wouldn't answer the Jerry Garcia question...would have given us more insights into the man he is!

Posted by: Susan Ryan at November 19, 2007 01:38 PM

I noticed in the interview it was stated that it could take almost all of 2008 to complete the in process adoptions. Did I read that wrong? If not, why would it take so much more time if "in-process" cases were allowed to continue under current laws?

Posted by: Jimmy at November 19, 2007 01:52 PM

Mr. Lowell says this, "I know it’s impossible for those matched to understand this but not all cases will be approved, the birthmother can change her mind at any point up until the very end."

So if we STARTED until the notarial laws and lose our referral, will we get another referral under the same notarial laws? In the past, families who lost a referral (as devastating as that is) still got an opportunity to accept another referral.

I'm terrified that for families in process now, it's all or nothing. If you lose your referral in those "extra steps" or at all during the process, you're basically screwed, right? Not only do you grieve the loss of your child, but you also lose your money, and lose any chance of hope for the future of adopting another child. :( Is THIS going to be covered in the grandfather ammendment, too?

Posted by: jlr at November 19, 2007 01:54 PM

A strange comment - and maybe better understood in the context of actually hearing him say it - was that "not all cases will be approved." I saw that he said some birthmothers might change their mind, but it seemed like more than that.

Kevin, do you have any clarification on this point?

Posted by: Jane at November 19, 2007 01:58 PM

...and PS: for NEW cases, I think a birthmother interview would be fine. But PLEASE do it EARLY. To throw that in at the end is absolutely TERRIFYING for in-process cases. Why allow us an opportunity to visit our babies, fall deeply in love, create their nurseries here in our homes, then make us wait until the very end to interview the birthmoms? DO THIS BEFORE YOU GIVE A REFERRAL FOR NEW CASES, NOT AFTER! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY CRUEL to waiting parents!

Posted by: jlr at November 19, 2007 02:00 PM

Thanks to Kevin and Mr. Lowell for providing us with this information. I too am concerned regarding the possible addition of a birthmother interview in PGN. Why the need for an additional interview? Isn't the birthmom allowed to take back the child anytime before she signs the final approval of the adoption papers at the very end if the process? (And isn't that about 8-12 months?) That seems ample opportunity to think over her decision, without adding the pressure of a face to face interview with PGN who may exert pressure on birthmoms to cancel the proceedings. I wonder what thoughts Mr. Lowell has on this and if the US has any influence on what additional steps may be added to in-process cases.

Posted by: Sally S. at November 19, 2007 02:31 PM

Thank you Kevin and to Mr. Lowell. Thank you both for taking the time to try and bridge the chasm that seems to exist between PAP's here in the U.S. and our own government. I don't know if I feel all my concerns are totally addressed, but I do feel some comfort that there is an approachable human being working on this.
It was a very sad day when Jerry died. I bet he enjoyed fruit filled donuts as well. Although living in Marin it probably had a fancier name!

Posted by: jandc at November 19, 2007 02:44 PM

Kevin,

I really admire you for doing this interview. Thank you! I agree with other posters who said it is not a grandfather clause if you are adding new requiremnets. Two things I would have added:

1) Can you explain in detail why it takes 60+ days to get pre-approval? What are they doing with the file during that time? Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the child to expedite that process?

2) How many Guatadopt calendars do you want to order?

Posted by: Jenn_in_PA at November 19, 2007 02:57 PM

I had a friend who sat down to coffee and pie one evening with Jerry, Mountain Girl, and few others. She let it be known that Jerry was partial to Mountain Girl's strawberry-rhubarb pie ... which is "fruit-filled donut" by any other name!

Posted by: Nick B at November 19, 2007 03:12 PM

Thank you both for the interview. I am amazed with the ease of the talk of just adding a birthmother interview in PGN. It has been stated many times how bullish PGN has been to birthmothers when interviewed--does Mr. Lowell know this? If you are aware of this Mr. Lowell, why would you support such a thing?? Are you supporting this Kevin?? Also, if this actually happens, this is not grandfathering. These are new rules. The question must be asked--what information does PGN wish to obtain that the Family Court interview did not obtain? This is cruel to these birthmothers and very obvious what the rational is behind doing this. It is so frustrating that it seems like we as US Citizens do not have an advocate in this situation. Our US government seems to be supporting this and is not considering the history PGN has with these interviews. I am very frustrated and hope that someone with sense in the Guatemalan government will do the right thing and allow in process cases to complete under current law and rules. If they want to make this a new requirement with the Ortega Law, so be it. But when we entered this process in good faith--this 2nd interview was not part of the process--I guess it doesn't matter what is "fair". I just pray God protects the children b/c their is so much politics surrounding adoptions people seem to have forgotten the kids.

Posted by: frustrated at November 19, 2007 03:46 PM

Kevin, thanks for asking such thought provoking questions for Mr. Lowell. The United States has some very good people working for them and I think Mr. Lowell takes his job very seriously when serving the American electorate. The answers given were much more transparent than the usual given on the DOS website.

The doughnut of choice for Mr. Lowell can be found down south at the local "Krispy Kreme" and is fine delicacy. The doughnut is powdered with cinnamon on the outside and filled with appletart
filling on the inside. This is also one of my favorites since early childhood.

Thanks,

Paul

P.S We exited PGN in late October and hope to travel very soon. Does anyone have a time line on the appointment time stamp for the VISA interview against when the "Pink Slip" was issued ( one or two week lag)?

Posted by: Paul at November 19, 2007 04:17 PM

Thank you for interviewing the Consul General. There were a lot of great questions. However making the joke about Jerry Garcia, no matter the intention, can lead to diminished credibility.

Posted by: LJ at November 19, 2007 05:04 PM

"If you could be any kind of donut, what kind would it be and why?"
"How did you feel the day Jerry Garcia died?"

You actually ASKED these questions?

I understand the need to break up the tension, really I do. But donuts? Jerry Garcia?
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you did the interview. You did gather a lot of information from Mr. Lowell. I may need to read through it a few more times to fully digest it!
I'm just not cool enough to understand the donut/Garcia questions.

Posted by: Anonymous at November 19, 2007 05:16 PM

Could someone please tell me who Jerry Garcia is. I don't remember reading anything about him.Thanks

Posted by: kat at November 19, 2007 05:33 PM

Thank you, Kevin, for asking the questions we all want answers for, and thank you, Mr. Lowell for answering. I, too, am concerned about the final PGN birthmother interview. Is it paranoid to think that a PGN official (who is not responsible for actually caring for the child) would be trying to convince the birthmom to take her child back? What is the point of the final interview, anyway? There have been other opportunities for her to change her mind over the several month process--why put her through what is likely a stressful situation like this?

It didn't look like Mr. Lowell had a definition for in-process yet, correct?

thanks again!!

Posted by: LeAnn at November 19, 2007 06:16 PM

How does this affect toddler abondonment cases in process? Is the feeling that they would be easier or more difficult to process?

Posted by: Erin at November 19, 2007 06:25 PM

As PAPs, one crucially important thing we all need to keep in mind: if the birthmother changes her mind regarding relinquishing her child, this is a good thing. It is the right thing. While it would be horribly painful for us personally, how could we argue with the result? Emotionally, these children are ours and would forever be in our hearts. However, our loss could never compare to that of a birthmother who later regrets her decision to relinquish. And it is certainly the right decision for the child.

While I think John Lowell should be commended for continuing his dialogue with the "grassroots" adoption community (this was not his only discussion with PAPs as I and others have personally spoken with him in the past), I believe there is very much more to this story. There have been a number of reports of birthmother coercion by Guate govt authorities, Susana Luarca's incident at the PGN several weeks ago being only the most public. This causes me tremendous concern. Counseling birthmothers to ensure they are making the right decision is one thing (and a very much needed good thing). However, I don't think any of us has confidence that the PGN has either this objective in mind or the appropriate resources in place to provide counseling. I have tremendous concern for these birthmothers that many of them will be "forced" into making decisions to both their and their child's long-term detriment. So very sad. My heart aches for them.

I know the US Embassy is aware of some of these situations. What I strongly question is what action if any they are taking. Yes, it is an internal Guatemalan matter. However, as has often been repeated on this site, that hasn't stopped Uncle Sam in the past.

Posted by: bpo at November 19, 2007 08:28 PM

Great work, Kevin. I, too, am disappointed he passed on the Jerry Garcia question.

Posted by: Jill at November 19, 2007 10:17 PM

Kat,

Jerry Garcia was the lead guitarist and one of the lead singers for the Grateful Dead. That question, like the donut one, was intended as a mood lightener, not anything relevant to adoption.

Sorry for any confusion. I've used both these joke question in work related interviews many tiimes and have always found them interesting as a way to spearate the person from the interview. Too bad John wouldn't answer about Jerry Garcia, though certainly his right.

To all, I will log some of the common questions you have and see if I can get a response to them.

Kevin
Guatadopt.com

Posted by: Kevin at November 19, 2007 11:31 PM

Bravo to Guatadopt for a great interview---"journalist side"---impressive!" I look forward to more interviews. What about on the Guate side? Crazy, I know.

Some very good points by your loyal bloggers... Some continued open lines with Mr. Lowell would be great. Such as the MAJOR points of the definition of a "grandfather clause!" I agree, maybe a transition law, but it AINT no grandfather when there's changes. I just don't understand why they (Guate and the US) don't want to just move these cases on and out, to get on with HAGUE compliance? To focus on the NEW system? Come May 1 or whenever, they'll be dealing with new and old cases? Start clean---the US should just stop accepting I600 applications until May, to help filter out the 4000 cases that sounds like it will take all year to get through PGN--UGGH--that's absurd and not fair to the babies\kids. Stopping my I600 application would have been the only thing to stop me from adopting from Guatemala. I was attracted to Guate for many reasons, and I didn't want to do the paper chase again. It was a tiresome task.

Another point of a blogger-- if deemed necessary to interview the BM by PGN (WHY?? doesn't make sense to me-during FC it IS done already), it does need to be at the get-go by PGN before even entered! I fear PGN's scare tactic may backfire after 1 or 2 years and these BM realize they can't care for their child after all- those kids are OLDER and a lot harder to find homes! and YES, what about those "lost referrals?"

I know the DOS put out warnings, but the bottom line is there were relinquished children out there, and parents who want to extend their family. That will continue as long as it's allowed and there's a need. We know international adoption is a risk. Honestly, finding permanent homes for these children needs to be #1-all should rejoice loving parents are out there who want to give these kids a better chance at life. Yes, staying in their own country is wonderful, as long as it truly is a viable answer.

All and all good info, but some just out right maddening! A big thanks to you and Mr. Lowell. Kevin--- your insights are always reflective, and thought provoking.

LMR
waiting to enter PGN

Posted by: LMR at November 19, 2007 11:33 PM

kevin,
What loan did the U.S. grant to Guatemala -- and on the same day as the ortega law passed....... hmm....... sounds fishy..... sorry but I am way past trusting my governement..... that ended years and years ago...... there is more going on behind the scenes than they are telling.

Thanks for posting the interview,
Gloria

Posted by: gloria at November 20, 2007 12:20 AM

While I am hopeful for the April 30th date as opposed to January 1, I understand Mr Lowell's point in delaying the date will only add to the pipeline cases they under the notarial law. Stop issuing I600's!!! AND if you want to decrease the # of pipeline cases then find way to expedite the process to get as many children home with the waiting families as soon as possible! I don't understand why each step takes weeks/months to get thru....PAP's did all the legwork in the very beginning with the great paper chase, having it state apostiled and guat consular'd etc. How long does it truly take to review the paperwork, confirm the DNA and interview the birthmother????

Posted by: Anne Marie at November 20, 2007 12:32 PM

Kevin,

Please contact Mr. Lowell and ask one follow-up question: how can in process cases be grandfathered under existing notarial laws and there be additional requirements at the same time? I agree with the other bloggers, that is not grandfathering.

Posted by: Robert at November 20, 2007 01:20 PM

I have to repsectfully disgree with many of you on whether it is still grandfathering if there are new steps in the process.

I guess the easiest way to explain my opinion is to first point out that requirements in the process are always changing. It's not like PGN and/or the US Embassy have ever been 100% consistent.

The cases will be completed under te notarial system. That means no judge or central authority to have to approve it. That means no new requirement of having to first do some search for a bio or domestic familyl. That means the adoption will be completed as private agreement between you and the biological mother. Most importantly, it means your referals will be honored and recognized! That is tantamount.

As someone who wil always remember July 1, 2003 when the Guatemalan government told we "post March 5" Hague cases that they would honor our referals, I have to express how important a distinction that is. Because you could be looking at something much worse.

Let me say that I don't agree with interviewing all birthmoms. I think it could get ugly and problematic. but I still think the grandftaher term is correct.

Kevin
Guatadopt.com

Posted by: Kevin at November 20, 2007 01:39 PM

Kevin,

I am unpersuaded by your argument. I think performing interviews and investigations, and especially being given the power to accept or reject a case on their basis, takes PGN out of their current role of verifier of cases' legal and proper order, and turns them into a Central Authority. Perhaps not, though.

As a PAP who likely will still be in PGN on Jan. 1, 2008, I can only hope that you are right, and that "honoring our referrals" will be a significant (enough) distinction from the debacle of 2003. We may still be under the notarial system, but be in just as much of a debacle. Here's hoping that that isn't so!

Thanks again!

Posted by: Nick B at November 20, 2007 02:25 PM

Kevin,

If birthmoms are interviewed by PGN, it could become an opportunity for them to be strongarmed into taking their children back, leaving PAPs high and dry. If these interviews are permitted, in my opinion the grandfathering won't mean much and is a just a legal technicality. Things should be left AS IS.

Posted by: Robert at November 20, 2007 02:36 PM

Kevin,
Thanks for the information and for your dedication to this. From the interview (and all of the blogger comments) it is difficult to tell - when will the "birth mother interview" requirement commence? Will it be in line with the date that the new law goes into effect, and we are, in essence, completing our cases under the "grandfather clause" or will it occur for all cases beginning now? Is this requirement now "official" or something that is planned for some unknown date in the future that we just happened to find out about because of the interview? Last, what did he mean by "this may take a year"? Thanks for all that you do.

Posted by: Shannon at November 20, 2007 04:43 PM

Melissa-waiting on a referral, I was you about a year ago, I'm now working on fixing five previos (that make no sense and come out of the blue), I call them PGN whims, one day this way, the next day, that. If I can give you some advice, that I know you don't want, its RUN, change your 1600A to another country and redo a few papers. This is the most life altering, stressful, difficult process right now. So much uncertainty, one birthmom changed her mind and set me back 5 months and a new referal wait, another birthmom went missing for 4 months, none of these things can be predicted. To think you will have time to complete this before April 30th, is truly wishful thinking. I knew the Hague was pending but I thought 14 months to get through would be no problem, "other people have problem cases, not us"...hum, step into my shoes, its not fun, its heartbreaking and so much more. One PA was a 79 day wait and now this one is going on 60 and that's just to get into PGN where the real fun begins!

BTW, I'm using a reputable hogar for one adoption and an agency for the other, so our situation is not an isolated agency issue etc., its the way things are right now for many of us. Fostercare runs, for us, $400 per month after month Five, times two. To enter now, you have to be up to a very long expensive process riddled with uncertainty, don't expect a baby, expect a toddler or much older.

Another Melissa

Posted by: Melissa at November 20, 2007 09:07 PM

Kevin,

Nice job, especially on the spur of the moment. As a PAP currently in PGN waiting on the finalization of our docs for our Two children (siblings), we are on edge over what additional steps may be added to the process and how it may effect the process and eventual outcome for our kids. A pgn interview with BM will certainly be another uncertainty in the process.

Can you give any intelligence as to what other benchmarks there may be between now and Jan 1 and from whom they may be received that may shed more light on the finalization of any new rules? Thanks.

Posted by: Tom M at November 20, 2007 10:43 PM

I am not reassured by this information at all.

With the DOS strongly pushing for a Dec 31st deadline they are putting all of us in-process cases in huge jeopardy. AND, taking the rights of thousands of Guatemalan women away.

These women chose to relinquish their children, which in most cases has the utmost need for privacy. The PGN parading these women through their bureaucratic system will not only be a logistical nightmare it will be an intimidating exposure of their choice to relinquish.

PGN and Bienstar has made it WELL known that they do not like IA and they will not "work hard" to make the process proceed in a timely manner.

I am shocked and appalled that anyone considers this plan a "strong grandfather" plan. It abuses the children as they will be prolonged in a non permanent situation, it abuses the birthmothers as their rights are being violated and, in many cases their very lives may be in danger, and it abuses the adoptive parents.

Who wins with this plan??????

Posted by: ann at November 20, 2007 11:16 PM

Thank you Kevin for initiating this interview and thank you Consul General Lowell for agreeing to participate. If the reason that DOS has continued to issue I600s for Guatemala is because they don't want to shut the program down, then cease and desist on the dire warnings and just go with facts. Every person who has done his/her reasearch at all will know that international adoption is never for the faint of heart, so please post the facts and let us all at least make informed decisions with information which is current. By the same token , parents who enter into international adoption have a right to expect the DOS to support them as US citizens entering into good faith agreements. I believe it would be inappropriate if DOS ever tries to use the "we warned you" argument when PAPs request assitance in completing those good faith adoption plans.
As the Consul General is aware the plight of many of these Guatemalan children would be dire if IA was halted. Our daughter came into foster care in 07/06 severely malnourished. She spent a year in foster care and then came to be home with us, we are just now getting her nutritional situation normalized. We thank God that she is home with us. Please continue to promote the Grandfather Clause and then go on to do everything ethically possible to keep adoptions open as an option for children.

Posted by: supportingreform at November 20, 2007 11:48 PM

Kevin, thank you for the interview with John Lowell. As I read through the interview, my impression of his answers to some of your questions was that he talked around the question and did not specifically provide the answer to the question (see the response to Question #5). Typical bureaucrat and politician. I don't have any faith in his answers or responses.

To me it is clear that he has no understanding of what we, the PSP's, actually go through. Why on earth would he continue to advocate an unjust law to go into effect as soon as possible? Beyond the continuation of the in-process cases, what will happen to all the current and future children? We all know that neither Bienstar nor PGN cares two hoots about the children. Why doesn't the US Embassy lobby the Guatemalan government to put in a system that actually does take the health and welfare of the children into account?
The idea of encouraging PGN that a birth mother interview is a good thing is preposterous. PGN's objectives against IA are clear. No good will come out of this.

Furthermore, there is no indication from Mr Lowell whether the position he is advancing is that of the DOS, the Ambassador's, or his own. Also, does Unicef's position against ICA have any impact on the US Embassy's policy?

As I see it, what we need from our US Embassy is a lobbying effort to put in a fair and expeditious process that truly has the best interest of the child and is transparent in both the US Embassy and the Guatemalan processes.

Needless to say but these are my interpretation of the interview.

Posted by: Prospective Parent To Be at November 21, 2007 02:14 PM

Interesting juxtaposition of comments. One commenter said:

I believe it would be inappropriate if DOS ever tries to use the "we warned you" argument when PAPs request assistance in completing those good faith adoption plans.

What more do you want from your diplomats abroad, than reasonable advice?

As another commenter said:

To think you will have time to complete this before April 30th, is truly wishful thinking. I knew the Hague was pending but I thought 14 months to get through would be no problem, "other people have problem cases, not us"...hum, step into my shoes, its not fun, its heartbreaking and so much more. One PA So much uncertainty, one birth mom changed her mind and set me back 5 months and a new referral wait, another birth mom went missing for 4 months, none of these things can be predicted. ….One PA was a 79 day wait and now this one is going on 60 and that's just to get into PGN where the real fun begins!

She went on to indicate to those willing to hear clearly, that :

I'm using a reputable hogar for one adoption and an agency for the other, so our situation is not an isolated agency issue etc., its the way things are right now for many of us.


Listen!!!!! If not to DOS, then to your fellow commenters!!!!

Reputable Hogar! Agency!!! Yet two anomalous situations! Do you guys really think that anomalies are just happenstance? There have been a number of children and birth mothers dying during the adoption processes in the last years, and a larger number of reports of the agency saying one thing, then the parents discovering another things as reported on these posts and comments!!! Things are not right in the arena of adoptions in Guatemala! You are being played for fools by people who have one purpose: to separate you from your money. Anyone who accepts a referral from Guatemala, from today and until a clear law is passed and accepted by the responsible people in the DOS, (And by the wise people at Guatadopt) has no excuse.

Lastly, I agree wholeheartedly with the desire of “prospective parent to be” in the desire for an:

expeditious process that truly has the best interest of the child and is transparent in both the US Embassy and the Guatemalan processes.

Posted by: Steve at November 21, 2007 10:27 PM

What do I want from our diplomats abroad? I am glad you asked that question. I want accurate representation of facts which are verifiable, not a lot of rumors and innuendo. I want transparency in the measures and agendas being supported by DOS in ICA.
As for the comment that those of us who have recently adopted from Guatemala are "being played for fools by people who have one purpose: to separate you from your money"; I for one do not feel that way. In my case many persons who assisted in our successful adoption process were truly caring and represented genuine interest in the care of our daughter. I am aware there are areas of the Guatemalan process that need reform and I pray that the Guatemalan government and the US DOS will continue to participate in moves toward positive changes.

Posted by: supportingreform at November 23, 2007 05:20 PM
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